People in the US watched in outrage when Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750, a 5,000% increase. Daraprim is a generic medication to treat the infection, toxoplasmosis. Turing pharmaceuticals and its CEO, Martin Shkreli, recently acquired this as one of their medications and immediately raised the price. After heated criticisms began rolling in, they relented and dropped the price back down.
In their defense, they attempted to claim that his rise in cost was necessary for research into the treatment of toxoplasmosis. Yet, less than 5,000 people a year in the US are hospitalized from this infectious disease. In fact, 60 million people carry this organism without even knowing it or exhibiting any symptoms. It is estimated to cause slightly more than 300 deaths per year. So yes, it can be a deadly disease. However, we already have medications that are effective against this pathogen, and there are many more pressing public health concerns that are in need of research. I think it has been made clear to everyone that this move was strictly driving for profits’ sake.
Over the past several years, the cost of medications, even generics, sky-rocketed. And insurance companies narrowed their formularies in response. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for patients to afford the medications they need. I honestly don’t know which is sadder: for a patient to suffer a disease with no existing treatment or to suffer one that has existing treatment that isn’t affordable.
Drug companies tell us that it costs money to discover and manufacture new medications. No one would argue that innovation and research are costly. But, how much of the pharmaceutical companies earnings go toward this effort? We need to wonder how much of it is spent in advertising and in those DTC (direct-to-consumer) commercials we see on TV. I imagine this represents a big percentage of their spending. Why should consumers be footing the bill for their marketing efforts? Patients often ask me about medications they have seen during commercial breaks from their favorite shows. And often, the promoted product is not appropriate to that particular patient. So, the money spent on this marketing actually benefited no one other than the pharmaceutical company. And we, the consumers, are the ones paying for it when we pick up our prescriptions from the pharmacy. Wouldn’t we rather the opportunity to pay less at the check-out counter for the medications we need rather than paying to be bombarded by ads that are useless to many of us?
Why do we need pharmaceutical companies to make their prices more transparent?
♦ As noted in the recent story about Turing Pharmaceutical company, they pretty much monopolize the medications they produce and can charge whatever they want. And as we have seen, much of it is just driven for profit.
♦ Pharmaceutical companies spend much money on advertising and marketing. We, the consumers are paying for this whether we want to or not. We should know how our money is being spent. If I buy a medication that is marked up 5,000%, I want to know.
♦ Patients are suffering for lack of being able to afford their medications. In the US in the 21st century, this is just absolutely appalling. Everyone in the healthcare industry should have the patients’ best interests at heart. The drug companies need to show that they are driven to help patients, not line their own pockets. Anything else is unethical.
♦ Drug companies have not too much over-sight in their spending. They can get away with whatever they want.
Americans are increasingly being squashed by outrageous medication costs. Our primary goal should be saving lives and curing diseases. Pharmaceutical companies lost their way when they became driven by outrageous profits. It is time to demand they open their books and make their pricing transparent to all. We cannot afford to stand idly any longer while our patients suffer from lack of affording their medications. Lives are on the line here. Don’t you think the drug companies stand up and do their part in easing the economic burden of our healthcare system?
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Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.