Last November, with much media coverage, several members of Congress announced the formation of The Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force, promising to “take action to combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals.”
Finally! I thought.
Related post: Prices continue to increase for generics
But I haven’t heard much since then.
There was a little noise earlier this month when the House Oversight Committee (of which the task force is a subcommittee, I believe) attempted to grill the now infamous Martin Shkreli about why he thought it was okay to jack up the price of Daraprim from $13 a pill to $750. He pleaded the Fifth.
Related post: Another drug skyrockets in price
Then last week I read a disheartening article disclosing Big Pharma’s “unique PR campaign” to improve its image and get Congress off its figurative back.
The author, Jim Hightower, writes:
The intent of PhRMA’s multimillion-dollar PR blitz and intensified offensive in Congress is not to restrain the gouging but to improve the industry’s image in hopes of restraining lawmakers from taking steps to rein in prescription costs. Of course, the ads dishonestly fail to mention the selfish intent of being allowed to keep ripping off patients, instead pitching drugmakers as selfless saviors of humanity. They feature soft scenes of drug researchers in white lab coats urgently trying to find new cures, scripted testimonials from patients and of course scenes of drugmakers altruistically aiding poor people.
We all know how good the drug industry is at marketing. Just look at their sales figures!
And Congress doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to standing up to Big Pharma.
The 2003 Medicare Part D law bans Medicare from negotiating with drug makers for lower prices. Critics of the law blame the power of the drug lobby and the amount of money flowing into various re-election funds.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 has also been good for the industry. Not only are more people covered by insurance, but those insurance policies must include coverage of prescription medications.
The health law, which will bring millions of uninsured Americans health benefits beginning in January 2014, will be a critical boon to pharmaceutical industry balance sheets, increasing revenue by one-third by the end of the decade…That means the U.S. pharmaceutical industry’s market value will mushroom by 33 percent to $476 billion in 2020.
And it blocked our ability to legally buy/import less expensive drugs from Canada.
More recently there is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries.
A recent draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal would give U.S. pharmaceutical firms unprecedented protections against competition from cheaper generic drugs, possibly transcending the patent protections in U.S. law.
On World Cancer Day, earlier this month, cancer patients and their supporters protested the TPP outside Big Pharma’s Washington, DC headquarters, because as one protester said:
“Cancer patients do not have the luxury to wait five or eight years for access to affordable medicines while PhRMA establishes extended monopolies to continue to reap outrageous profits.”
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned earlier this month that the TPP, negotiated in secret, “will extend pharmaceutical company monopolies and prevent people from accessing life-saving medicines by blocking or delaying the availability of price-lowering generic drugs.”
Americans are often angry that we pay so much more for prescription drugs than the rest of the world. The TPP might change that.
In the absence of any real action being taken “to combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals,” I can only assume the politicians are just attempting to placate their constituents with a bit of sound and fury. And of course it’s another election year, so I don’t expect much to get done other then campaigning.
Still, I will continue to follow the trends in drug pricing, and really listen to what the different candidates are saying about health care costs and what may be done.
And if you have been affected by the increasing costs of medications, please let your local lawmakers know! They need to hear from us, the paying—and voting—public.