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Sunday, September 4, 2016

The EpiPen, greed and Big Pharma

Sado-masochism has evidently become the fashion in the pharmaceutical industry. A case in point is Mylan’s decision to raise the price of their EpiPen to $600. 

The sadistic part is the joy Big Pharma takes in raising drug prices; the masochistic element is the pleasure they must feel being scorned by both Congress and their customers. And their sense of timing was magnificent: upping the price two months before an election with health care as one of the main topics. Mylan’s entire PR department should be fired, because every time these pricing outrages take place, the public option looks better and better to the average family.

Congress passed Obamacare in 2010, over the objections of every Republican in Congress. But not before they placed a number of poison pills in the final bill. First, the mandate was made voluntary, but with a fee attached for not signing up. The fee was nominal in the beginning, but will rise each year, guaranteeing the anger of the young and healthy who don’t sign up. This left only older and sicker patients to care for, raising costs for insurance companies and providing an incentive for them to leave the exchanges. Many other countries have a universal single-payer system, but realize participation must be mandatory.

Secondly, the plan kept the existing private insurance structure, with all the elements of a predatory bureaucracy that bankrupts its victims with the inflated pricing of a for-profit system that is unique to the United States.

How do health insurance and pharmaceutical companies get away with this? Well, they have lobbyists and big donors from both industries who “persuade” congressmen to vote the “right way.” The prime motivation of all politicians is re-election. That takes money. When health-care CEOs, who make millions a year, donate to their re-election campaigns, it makes it very hard for congressmen to say no to anything. There’s a reason why a U.S. senator or representative will raise upwards of $20 million to be elected to a $174,000 job.

Last year, the pharmaceutical industry’s chief bad boy was Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharma, who bought exclusivity for Daraprim, originally used to treat malaria. The drug was over 60 year old, but the market was small and he got the unexpired patent for the proverbial song. He then raised the price over 5,000 percent. Unscrupulous, but perfectly legal. There was an outrage throughout the country over his shenanigans and he literally became the “most hated man in America.

Jealousy of his title brought the fair sex into the competition. Heather Bresch of Mylan Pharmaceuticals decided to raise the price of the EpiPen to $600, while proclaiming that it wasn’t her fault. The real problem was “a broken health care system.” She said the system needs to be fixed. Fine! Let her be the first agent of change. But with so much money to be made by so many people down the line, and a lobbying system that gives large amounts of money to political campaigns, a vote to change that system seems highly unlikely.

What’s to do about it? Well, it seems obvious the insurance and pharmaceutical industries aren’t going to change a system that makes them trillions of dollars. Nor are our present politicians, who reaps millions in campaign contributions from those companies’ lobbyists.

Therefore we come to the conclusion that the corporate and political forces of this country will try very hard to keep the system as it is. That’s why we pay twice as much for health care than most other countries, with lesser results.

Conservatives said Americans have been shielded from the true cost of their health care because of insurance. But we’ve also been shielded from the public option that many other countries have had for years.

It was President Eisenhower – a World War II general – who warned of the military-industrial complex, where the military and the defense industry that supplies it would work together to influence military policy and budgets. Now we have a health care-political complex, where the health care industry, through large donations to politicians, influences how health care laws are written.

The end result, as Newt Gingrich famously said, was “to let Medicare slowly wither on the vine,” while tax cuts decimate all but the military and basic government functions. This allowed people at the top to keep more of their money and avoid paying for programs that gave the lazy middle class their famous “free ride” – according to conservative ideology.

Two hundred years ago there was a different kind of free ride in America. It concerned tar, feathers and getting a free ride out of town on a rail. Those were the good old days.

Jay Fenton is a resident of Washington and a retired writer and film restorer for VCI/Magic Lantern Entertainment in Tulsa, Okla.

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