The tales of woe, some seemingly catastrophic, are too many and too common. A patient is diagnosed with a rare illness for which there is a miracle or near-miracle drug, but the cost of that drug is either prohibitive, period, or will in a very short time break the patient and his family.
It is a state in which patients in other countries, where drug prices are notably cheaper than they are in the United States, do not find themselves. But drug-makers offer a weary excuse: They have to pay for research and development and should be allowed to recoup their costs and make a profit.
But the argument is undermined with incidents such as an appearance before Congress last year by Martin Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals. The company acquired the rights to Daraprim, a drug to treat parasitic infections, and raised the price by multiple of 50, to $750 a pill. Shkreli was lambasted by members of Congress.
But no decisive action has been taken to curb drug prices.
Now, a report from a panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine – chaired by a respected former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., Norman Augustine – says the government of the United States needs to step in to control drug prices, which are spiraling out of control, even for those who may get some help from insurance.
President Trump’s administration, if it wanted to capture the support of the public, could take on this cause, which this panel of people consisting of health care executives, government officials and business people roundly says must be addressed.
The solutions are not that complicated.
The group recommends: Not allowing drug makers to delay the availability of lower-cost generic drugs while the companies who own the name-brand drugs take as much profit as they can; allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for patients on government programs such as Medicare; requiring companies to report in more detail how they arrived at prices, with the same requirement of insurance companies, which obviously have a role in pricing the drugs to clients; limiting direct-to-patient advertising such as that which saturates the airwaves and drives up drug prices; and setting lower limits on how much patients have to pay from their own pockets.
These steps should have been taken long ago, but when it comes to lobbyists, drug companies are a virtual employment agency, and their representatives walk the halls of Congress (and direct campaign contributions, of course) to put lawmakers safely in their camps.
Now, however, the expense of drugs is at a crisis point for millions of Americans, who enjoy the most advanced, life-giving and life-saving drugs, but are driven to the poor house by the prices. This, while they hear reports of much cheaper drugs in nearby Canada and in other foreign countries.
The for-profit aspects of American health care once again are a boot on the necks of consumers. An enlightened White House could help lead the way to pulling it away.