January 19, 2016
Please take a moment and study the picture of the cute kitten. When you’re done reading, you’ll probably have steam coming out of your ears as you swear at the monitor/mobile screen, so take some time. His name is Monty, and he is very cute.
I’m blessed in my life that I have great health insurance that covers pretty much everything I could need from a medical perspective. I realize how insanely lucky I am that this is true. My doctor is incredible, my pharmacy knows me and looks out for me, I have very little to complain about.
I do, however, have a deductible, and at the beginning of each year I have to pay out of pocket until that number is reached. It’s not a massive burden, and I’m again blessed that I can afford to do it. But each January I get dragged back into the reality of the millions of un-insured or under-insured people in this country when I see the raw, unfiltered numbers that represent the insane costs of medical care.
I won’t give out a lot of information on specifics, as blogging about personally identifiable medical issues is generally a bad idea. Suffice it to say that I take certain prescription medications each month that dramatically improve the quality of my life. I might very well be able to live without them, but not anywhere near as well as I can live with them, so I and my doctor consider them necessary. One of those medications – just ONE – was over US$300. I cannot imagine how I’d be able to deal with that kind of monthly expense without health insurance that covered the majority of the cost for the majority of the year.
The medication is question has no generic – not because it’s new (it’s well over 15 years old) or because it’s some massively proprietary formula (it’s a combination of other medications), but because the formula in question is patented by a pharmaceutical giant who has managed to maintain the patent for an inordinately long time. Since the combination works significantly better than the two components alone, this is the best – and considered by many doctors to be the only – possible medication. This company has created a monopoly, and is charging what I can only describe as a certifiably insane amount of money for a one-month supply. If I wasn’t as lucky, as blessed, as I am. If I had to choose between this medication and food, I don’t know what I would do. For those of us who use it, the decision is that important. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if I had to choose between that and food not just for me, but my family, or children, or anyone under my care.
Suddenly, I faced the frightening reality of millions of Americans. I understood the literal life-or-death decisions that un- or under-insured people must make on a daily basis. I realized why some hedge-fund millionaire douche hiking the prices of a drug by 700% is a horrifying thing. This is real, this is happening, and now I understand why it is simply unacceptable in a civilized society.
Pharmaceutical companies should be able to make a profit. The old adage of “the second pill costs pennies, the first one costs billions” is true. I do not begrudge them and their shareholders from making a very good living from the insane amount of brain-power that was required to make these drugs in the first place. But there has to be a breaking point, where the out-of-control greed of the pharma companies combined with legal loopholes that let them set whatever prices they want results in a literal life-or-death situation for their customers. There must be a point where compassion and finance can meet at which allows people to have the medicine they need *and* the company can make a profit, and it is a LOT less then US$300+ (and I’ve seen some that were much higher) for a one-month supply! Come on, millions of people will use the stuff, companies can make an ungodly amount of cash charging a lot less.
Then there’s supply and demand. Artificial scarcity caused by patent laws that have spun totally out of control has created this situation. They can charge whatever they want because there is no competition, and there will be no competition as long as they hold the exclusive legal right to produce the medications in question.
Finally there’s the scourge of fake internet pharmacies shipping who knows what and labeling it as life-sustaining medicine. I’m not talking about narcotics or ED medications, I’m talking about heart and blood pressure treatments, medications for chronic conditions, or critical antibiotics – things that people literally cannot live without. Of course, in desperation, people without sufficient insurance will use these online scam artists to save the thousands of dollars every year that the legitimate pharmacies are forced to charge for the legitimate medications and many have died as a result.
There must be a better way to do this.
I know there’s little one person like me can do about it. I know I have no political capital to spend or clout to throw around. But I promise, I will not forget the shock I felt seeing that total ring up, and realizing that had I not been as lucky as I am in my life, I may have had to make a devastating choice that day – and that millions actually do.
Now, go look at Monty again. Hug your friends and family, get back to your lives, but never forget that many may be making the decsion right this moment to risk their lives because they cannot afford the medication they need. Not because it doesn’t exist, not because it’s in such short supply they cannot get hold of it, but because they simply cannot afford it – and for no good reason that I can figure out.