Big Pharma moans and groans about its high research and development costs, but much of those costs are borne by universities or startups that live or die on the success or failure of one drug.
If a startup succeeds, the big companies gobble it up, or the university hands them the patent and they enjoy 20 years of monopoly sales.
The drug manufacturers and distributors have countless other ways to drum up demand for a drug and keep prices high.
For one thing, they legally bribe our lawmakers.
Pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers showered $29 million in campaign contributions on congressional candidates in the 2016 election cycle, of which $23 million went to incumbents, according to Open Secrets.org.
In addition, pharmaceutical companies have spent $84.7 million since the beginning of 2017 on lobbying, Open Secrets says. Their 1,195 lobbyists amount to two lobbyists for every congressman.
We don’t even know about unregistered lobbyists/fixers/ presidential pals.
Novartis, the Swiss drug maker, may have wasted $1.2 million trying to get to Trump through his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, but to Novartis, that would be no more than a rounding error on its expense sheet.
And the drug companies legally or illegally bribe our doctors.
Drug reps inundate doctors’ offices with free samples to get the doctors to hook their patients on the expensive new drugs the patients are asking for because of the TV advertising.
The reps buy lunch for staffers, send doctors to conferences in Hawaii or the Bahamas and get them tickets to sporting events.
Some companies hire doctors as “consultants” to give talks enthusiastically promoting their drugs at medical conferences, which influences other doctors, and some just skip the speech-making requirement and just pay the doctors to keep on prescribing the drug, on or off-label.
Five “top doctors” were indicted in March for doing that very thing for Insys Therapeutics, a company that manufactures an FDAapproved fentanyl spray for breakthrough pain for cancer patients.
Hmm, fentanyl, where have we read about that
On the TV ads, virtually every company promises to help you pay for the drug if you just ask. “If you can’t afford it, Astra -Zeneca can help.”
In the meantime, insurers and pharmacy chains are moving in to cut out those mysterious middlemen, the prescription benefit managers, who help determine the prices of drugs. CVS and Aetna merged in March to get a piece of that action.
The pharmaceutical industry is a complicated, multilayered, snakelike monster that, like Hydra, needs all its heads chopped off. But that won’t happen. Congress won’t do it and Trump’s weak tea cost reduction plan certainly won’t do it.
Just like any efficient capitalists, the drug companies get what the market will bear, and here in America, where they can hype demand and prices ad infinitum, the market will bear a lot.
Use your mute buttons and stop asking your doctor, people, it’s your only hope.