Free Medicines, Like 5 Other Countries
Change Our Pharmaceutical Mafias For Peace & Prosperity
Americans pay the highest drug prices in the world, by far. People in other countries pay only a fraction of what we pay and some countries give their people free medicines, even expensive cancer and HIV/AIDS medicines.
Most medicines are incredibly cheap to manufacture. For example, while Americans pay nearly $2,000 a month for HIV/AIDS medicines, charities buy the same medicines for only 20 cents per person per day.
Medicines should be a human right, not a luxury only for people who can afford them. Depending on profit-driven private drug companies leaves us very vulnerable to catastrophic diseases like AIDS or Ebola because these companies have no interest in these diseases until they spread into rich countries, far too late.
Drug companies waste money, cheat, and lie and their fraud often kills tens of thousands of people. They don’t even make most of our truly important new medicines. They also bribed our government to outlaw negotiating cheaper drug prices, even though our government is the largest buyer of medicines in the world.
Public funding of drug research would make medicines vastly cheaper and safer. Sharing research would speed up drug development while exposing dangerous side effects and negative results that drug companies often hide.
Free Medicines, Like 5 Other Countries (Full Text)
Kyle Willis, an unemployed father with no health insurance, couldn’t afford to pay a dentist to pull out a painful wisdom tooth. After he went to the emergency room with a swollen face, he couldn’t afford antibiotics and pain medicine, so he chose the pain medicine. The infection spread and he died. Almost 1 in 5 Americans report not filling a prescription because of the cost.
Americans pay the highest drug prices in the world, by far, because the US is one of the only nations in the world that does not regulate drug prices. People in other countries pay only a fraction of what we pay.
Chile, India, Sri Lanka, and Burma give their people free medicines, even very expensive cancer medicines. Most drugs are incredibly cheap to manufacture. For example, Americans pay about $2,000 a month for the HIV/AIDS cocktail but charitable foundations get it from generic manufacturing companies for only 20 cents a day!
Chile and Brazil give their citizens HIV medicines for free. It sounds crazy but rates of HIV treatment are 3 times higher in rural Uganda, Kenya, and Botswana in Africa than in black Americans!
We could save an incredible amount of money by simply giving everyone with HIV free medicines because controlling HIV stops unprotected sex from spreading the virus. In our country, 50,000 new HIV infections occur each year and experts estimate each one costs up to $338,400 long term.
New Zealand charges its citizens only $5 for medicines, up to 20 prescriptions per year per family, then gives any additional medicines needed for free. Sweden caps all medicine costs at $220 a year.
Americans spent $457 billion on prescription medicines in 2015. Our pharmaceutical companies act like a mafia. They cheat us for massive profits and their fraud has actually killed far more than 100,000 people, likely over 200,000. We have almost no limit on their greed.
Before 2010, the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim, desperately needed by some AIDS and transplant patients, cost only $1 a pill. It still costs $1 or $2 a pill abroad. In just one month, Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to $750 each, even though desperately ill patients need 2 or 3 pills a day for weeks or months.
Since 2001, the price of Acthar, an old drug developed in the 1950s used to treat lupus, multiple sclerosis, and very dangerous seizures in infants, skyrocketed from $40 a vial up to $35,000 each.
In the early 2000s, Daranide for periodic paralysis cost $50 for 100 pills. It’s an old medicine, developed in the 1950s. Now Strongbridge Biopharma calls it Keveyis and charges $15,001 for 100 pills.
Some drugs cost $300,000 a year. In just the year between July 2013 and July 2014, the average price of over 1,200 brand name medicines jumped to 5 times their previous cost.
Even the cost of many old, generic medicines have been skyrocketing. For example, 500 tablets of the antibiotic doxycycline hyclate went from $20 to $1,849 in just 6 months!
Drug company lobbyists wrote a 1,000-page bill outlawing Medicare from negotiating better bulk drug prices, even though our government buys more medicines than any other entity in the world. Medicare alone provides 25% of the revenue for large pharmaceutical companies.
Drug companies spent $116 million on the bill, with twice as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress, and filled legislators’ bank accounts with campaign contributions. Members of Congress received the 1,000-page bill less than 24 hours before the scheduled vote.
Congressman Billy Tauzin helped push the bill through at 3 am to avoid public scrutiny. Tauzin later became president and CEO of the leading pharmaceutical industry trade group.
This crazy law gave the drug companies an extra $90 billion each year. Every other government in the world negotiates better drug prices. Between 1998 and 2016, pharmaceutical companies spent $3.4 billion lobbying, compared to less than $1 billion for defense and aerospace contractors.
There is no reason for the vicious greed of pharmaceutical companies. They are the most profitable companies in the world. Drug companies consistently show far greater net profits after taxes than all other Fortune 500 companies.
In 2013, Pfizer had a 42% profit margin. In 2015, Gilead Sciences had nearly a 53% profit margin.
Gilead charges Americans $1,000 a pill for Sovaldi to treat hepatitis C, making a full 12-week course $84,000. Without it, you can die a horrible death extremely weak and tired, very confused, itchy, malnourished, with no appetite and an extremely bloated belly, perhaps vomiting blood.
It only costs about $1 a pill to make enough Sovaldi for the 12-week course. India sells the full course for just $500 and Egypt makes it for $330, giving it free to sick Egyptians.
Researchers at Emory University spent ten years discovering, developing, and testing Sovaldi using mostly government funding. A small biotech company bought it first, then got bought out by Gilead, which only paid for the very last phase of testing it. The two private companies spent no more than $200 million developing it.
In a sane world, the US government would have simply finished the testing of Sovaldi, owned it, and sold it at the cost of production. Or we could have kept most of the patent to Sovaldi. Israel and Finland both keep equity in companies that profit from government research.
Because of our foolish laws, most patients who need Sovaldi can’t afford it, insurance often refuses it to everyone but the very sickest, and Gilead’s CEO is a billionaire. Gilead forced Medicare and Medicaid (us taxpayers) to pay $6 billion for Sovaldi last year.
Gilead has made over $35 billion from medicines based on Sovaldi and expects to make $20 billion annually for years to come. Gilead counts its profits in Ireland to avoid US taxes, even though no drug development takes place there.
The skyrocketing price of two EpiPens, the shots for life-threatening allergy attacks, to $600 is a very similar story. The 100-year old medicine may only cost a dollar and our Defense Department developed the injector technology 40 years ago for quick antidotes.
After the price gouging for EpiPen, the CEO’s pay skyrocketed by $17 million and the company moved its headquarters offshore to avoid US taxes.
We spend $30.9 billion of our taxpayer dollars on biomedical research every year and much of it benefits drug companies. Over 80% of all funds for basic research to discover new drugs and vaccines come from public sources.
For example, taxpayer money developed the cancer drug Taxol right through clinical trials, then our government gave it away to Bristol-Myers Squibb. Now it costs up to $20,000 a week and Medicaid (us taxpayers) often pays for it.
The last 10 cancer drugs approved before July 2015 have an average yearly cost of $190,217. Our foolish rules force Medicare to pay for almost every approved cancer treatment, no matter what the company decides to charge.
Depending on profit-driven private drug companies leaves us very vulnerable to deadly side effects they hide and catastrophic diseases. They have no interest in treating diseases like AIDS, Ebola, or Zika until after they spread into rich countries, far too late. A promising Ebola vaccine actually sat on a shelf for 10 years before the large outbeak in 2014 led to its use and more research.
For-profit drug companies aren’t interested in developing new antibiotics for the growing problem of dangerous resistant bacteria because short cures aren’t profitable enough.
They won’t test promising new uses for cheap, old medicines, develop desperately needed medicines or diagnostic tools, or even make and stockpile enough antivenom medicines for snake bites, just because they don’t see enough profits.
They often commit fraud and when they do, it often kills people. Between 1991 and 2012, there were 239 criminal and civil cases of medical fraud settled for over $1 million each, totaling $30 billion.
In the last decade alone, 9 out of the largest 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world have settled federal lawsuits for medical fraud.
When Merck hid evidence of heart problems from Vioxx, our government estimated it caused between 88,000 to 140,000 serious cases of heart disease and experts believe around 50,000 people died from it.
When GlaxoSmithKline hid evidence of cardiovascular problems with the diabetes drug Avandia, our government estimated it caused 83,000 extra heart attacks. Experts believe about 36,520 died from it.
Researchers studied just 5 medicines our government found fraudulently marketed and estimated the cost of illness and death from them to be over $382 billion. Yet the criminal fines on drug companies are tiny compared to their profits—to them, fines are just a cost of doing business.
Senator Bernie Sanders argues for a law punishing drug companies for fraud in the manufacture or sale of a medicine by taking away their patent to that medicine.
Drug companies also seek government approval for drugs for one specific, narrow use, hiding dangerous side effects in other populations or for other uses. After getting approval, they illegally but aggressively promote the drug for the other off-label uses.
Drug companies claim they need patents and high prices because of the cost of drug research. They often claim developing a new medicine costs between $1 and $2.5 billion. GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO Sir Andrew Witty called the $1 billion figure “one of the great myths of the industry.”
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) estimates the cost of new drug development is $60 million or less and estimates only 1.3% of pharmaceutical company revenues goes to discovering new molecules while 25% goes to promotion.
Doctors Without Borders and several other medical organizations estimate the cost of new medicines, including failed attempts, to be only $60 to $186 million. Building new medicines by tweaking older ones likely only costs $10 to $40 million.
Doctors Without Borders has first-hand experience, having developed a number of new drugs and treatments, helping hundreds of millions of people.
The organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases, too, created 6 new treatments and a solid drug development pipeline with a budget of just $171.7 million.
In 2015, the top 100 pharmaceutical companies, on average, spent only 8.32% of their revenues on research. Twenty-seven of them spent over 10 times as much on marketing and sales as on research.
These companies often spend tens of millions of dollars to promote just one medicine. In 2015 alone, AbbVie spent $357 million on advertising Humira to consumers.
They spend even more targeting doctors with 50,000 sales reps to manipulate them into prescribing the more expensive medicines. In 2013, drug companies spent only 21% of their marketing money on advertising to consumers but 68% targeting physicians.
Between August and December of 2013 alone, drug and device makers spent $3.5 billion to influence medical professionals.
Clearly, these companies force sick people to pay for their enormous marketing and advertising campaigns.
Pharmaceutical companies waste money in many other ways. They constantly sue each other to establish or invalidate patents. Brand name companies often pay generic companies to delay cheaper medicines, an illegal tactic in Europe. These deals cost American consumers at least $3.5 billion each year.
Drug companies waste research tweaking old drugs with slight changes like an extended-release version, creating new copycat medicines with no real benefits except to maintain obscene profits when a patent is about to expire. For example, the cholesterol drug Vytorin works no better than older medicines, yet it costs 20 times as much.
In fact, our Food & Drug Administration uses standard reviews for the vast majority of drugs they approve. This means all these new medicines do NOT involve real breakthroughs over existing drugs. A study of new medicines approved in Europe, too, found no real breakthroughs between 2000 and 2014.
Drug companies keep research secret, leading to duplication of efforts. They won’t test medicines against each other, just against placebos, so doctors can’t know which medicines are the most effective.
At the very least, our government should demand value from drug companies, like it does for doctors and hospitals. It could set prices, like it already does for doctors, hospitals, home health care services, and CT and MRI scans. We could set drug prices based on quality of life improvements from the medicines.
Senator Bernie Sanders proposed legislation to eliminate patents and give drug developers $80 billion in prizes each year for real breakthrough medicines.
Sanders proposed another bill buying out the patents of AIDS drugs for $3 billion each year, so our government could sell medicines at the cost of manufacturing them. This would save vast amounts of money, because our government already pays for most AIDS treatments.
Our federal patent law already allows our government to seize a patent for the public good, only requiring reasonable compensation. We did this in the early 1970s to get cheap medicines for our troops in Vietnam.
Public funding of all drug research would make medicines vastly cheaper and safer. Sharing research would also speed up drug development. The truly important new medicines mostly come from research at the National Institute of Health, universities, or small biotechnology companies.
Patents are a system of legal monopolies that kill millions of poor people around the world by protecting high profits for pharmaceutical companies. These high profits also result in a dangerous market of fake and poor-quality medicines that kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
If we had a free market for medicines, like most other businesses in the US, medicines would be far cheaper. Patents also give drug companies great incentives to cheat, and then we learn about dangerous side effects only during lawsuits after far too many deaths.
Our government should simply hire drug researchers directly or contract with companies, paying for research in major areas while requiring transparency and the sharing of all results.
Or we could offer prizes for promising new medicines and buy up the rights to them. Surely our government should run the clinical trials testing the drugs, where the worst abuses of the pharmaceutical companies occur.
All governments worldwide should work together through the United Nations and the World Health Organization to develop medicines cheaply. This would be a wonderful first step toward worldwide peace and prosperity. For us, it would be far cheaper and far more effective than all our bombs, drones, and military spending.
Medicines should be a human right, not a luxury only for people who can afford them. The two men who invented the polio vaccines never patented them—they donated them to humanity. This is the wise, loving policy the world desperately needs.