OPINION – There are a lot of stories out there right now talking about why and how Mylan, the company that manufactures the lifesaving EpiPen, can get away with jacking up its price from less than $100 in 2007 to more than $600 today.
Forget all that “compassion” and “concern” Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is jabbering about and consider, for a moment, that during the same time, her annual compensation went from $2.4 million to $18.9 million.
Ignore her crocodile tears when she says “Nobody is more frustrated than me” about the outrageous price hike.
And you can shelve the sleight-of-hand when she starts babbling about costs, insurance coverage changes and patent laws. The production cost has not grown proportionally to justify the hike, insurance rates and coverage have nothing to do with it – even though the claims amount to nothing more than a political backdoor slam at the Affordable Care Act – and the patent on EpiPens has expired, leaving the product open to competitive manufacturing.
No, we are dealing with a greedy corporate CEO here who also oversees the Generic Pharmaceutical Association – the generic pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying group.
Bresch is also responsible for moving the company headquarters to The Netherlands in 2014, partially as a tax dodge and partially to employ a provision in Dutch law to avoid a company takeover.
And, a Master of Business Administration that was awarded her by West Virginia University was rescinded when it was later found that she did not complete enough classes for the degree and that political influence from her father, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who was governor of the state when Bresch attended the school, and Milan Puskar, who was CEO of the drug company at the time and WVU’s biggest benefactor, may have helped her obtain the degree.
Insight into Bresch and Mylan helps us understand why some people will live and some people will die as a result of this price hike. It is really quite simple: Bresch jerked the price of EpiPens into the stratosphere because she can, and there is nobody willing to stop her because the company has bought and paid for the right to charge whatever it wants for this life-saving device.
Before the Blame Obama bunch weighs in, let’s try to sprinkle a little reason over this mess.
The problems lie far beyond the realm of the Oval Office.
They begin with Congress and end in the halls of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
For years, Big Pharma has had its indelicate way with the U.S. government, dropping mega-bucks at its feet via the most aggressive lobbying and campaign donation programs in history.
Nobody, not even the National Rifle Association, the insurance lobby, Big Oil or any of the other industries that feed our politicians comes near to what Big Pharma doles out each year in lobbying and campaign money.
So far this year, the pharmaceutical industry, according to OpenSecrets.org, a bipartisan group that tracks such things, has sprung for $129 million in lobbying, putting it on track to come in at about $240 million for the year, which would equal last year’s amount. That is $83 million more than the insurance industry spent last year and $110 million more than Big Oil handed out.
During the 2013-14 election season, the pharmaceutical industry handed out $15 million in campaign donations.
That buys a lot of influence.
So if you ever have to rush a friend or family member to the ER who is in danger for their life from anaphylaxis shock, wishing you had one of these EpiPens to help buy a little time, remember this: EpiPens are only lifesavers if you can afford them.
They were once carried by EMTs and other first-responders.
They were carried by many individuals whose lives could easily be endangered by allergic reactions.
There was even a plan to stock them in schools across the nation to protect the lives of our children.
They have pretty well priced themselves out of the market.
Even first-responders are now carrying the drug used to combat anaphylaxis shock separately and using syringes to inject it instead of using the much easier to use EpiPens.
If you are geographically lucky, you can slip across the Canadian border and pick up a set of two for about $100. They go for the same price in most European nations.
Why so cheap there and so expensive here?
Because Big Pharma hasn’t figured out yet how to buy the souls of Canadian and European lawmakers.
The problem goes far beyond EpiPens, to be sure.
That’s why so many retirees and people living on a fixed income are purchasing their necessary medications across international borders, slipping into Canada or Mexico to buy the meds that sustain their lives.
The prices for these meds are fractional when compared with what prices in the United States are listed at and the meds, despite the rumors put out by government agencies, are just as effective. Just ask anybody who has spent any time abroad and relied on foreign pharmacies.
Why are pensioners going across the border to Toronto for their blood pressure pills?
Because they are the same, exact product sold in the U.S., but at as much as a 55 percent discount because of price caps set by the Canadian government.
There are some technicalities that can get you into a lot of trouble with the law if you bring prescription drugs across the border.
However, if those laws were uniformly enforced, the state governments of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Vermont would be cuffed and stuffed for importing large quantities of medications distributed through their health insurance programs. So would many other city and county governments across the United States who are trying to give their employees a fair shake in their health benefits.
Big Pharma has used its monopoly to create these laws and charge whatever it wishes for decades.
It has weaseled its way into unfair practices regarding patents, offering extensions to drug manufacturers that are beyond reason. It has garnered a special place within the media, soaking it with advertising dollars to try to convince patients that they should demand certain drugs from their physicians. And, the physicians themselves have also been bought and sold by the drug merchants who ply them with free samples, lunches and other bribes, which is why some prescription drugs are pushed more than others. It is not always a case of which drug has greater efficacy, but more a matter of which drug is getting better PR and marketing at the moment.
Want to drive down medical costs?
Make it illegal for the pharmaceutical companies to advertise prescription drugs in the media. Seriously, who really knows best which drug suits a certain ailment?
Make it illegal for the pharmaceutical industry to lobby Congress and the FDA. Eliminate that money and you eliminate their influence.
Reduce the life of patents issued for all drugs. Usually the first product on the market is the one that remains at the head of the class.
Place caps on the cost of medications.
And, finally, heavily penalize any drug manufacturer who gouges the public with unrealistic price hikes, such as Mylan.
We all hear a lot of grumbling about how big government has become.
It’s really not a matter of how big government is, it is more a matter of how effective it is and who controls it.
Right now, it is controlled by the special interests – lobbyists and Corporate America – who have bought and sold our elected officials – and Big Pharma, which is getting away with murder.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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