Big Pharma

Big Pharma buys up critical, life-saving drugs, then raises prices dramatically

iv-bag-with-patient-in-the-background

In an astonishing display of pure unadulterated greed, Big Pharma has been caught red-handed, and rather openly, buying up critical, life-saving, “undervalued” drugs and then raising their price tags dramatically, citing only their duty to shareholders as their reasoning.

Meanwhile, our government stands by as patients – a captive, and vulnerable market, are gouged for whatever they can bear.

Here’s just one, particularly egregious example:

The company leading the pack in drug-price increases is Canada-based Valeant, which lifted list prices by at least 20% some 122 times since the beginning of 2011, according to Needham & Co., in its June 2014 research note.

Isuprel and Nitropress, the heart drugs Valeant bought earlier this year, have been staples of medical care for decades. Doctors use Isuprel during procedures treating heart-rhythm problems, and give Nitropress to emergency patients whose blood pressure has risen to life-threatening levels. Doctors say there are few good alternatives.

Valeant was interested in the drugs in part because they hadn’t yet faced generic competition even though they had lost patent protection, according to a person familiar with the matter. Adding the drugs would also expand Valeant’s portfolio of hospital-administered drugs, the person said.

After Valeant agreed to buy the drugs in early January, the company hired a consultant to look at their prices. The consultant found the prices didn’t reflect the benefits of the drugs to patients and the costs that hospitals save by using the medicines, the person said. Valeant decided to raise the price. The list price of a one-milliliter vial of Isuprel, a treatment for abnormal heart rhythms, jumped to $1,346.62, up from $215.46, according to Truven. Meantime, a two-milliliter vial of Nitropress, which combats dangerously high blood pressure and acute heart failure, increased from $257.80 to $805.61.

Although I think this constitutes a clear case of price gouging, Robert Reich says all companies raise prices to whatever the market will bear. According to him, the real scandal is that Big Pharma rigs the market in at least 8 other ways:

1. Big Pharma has got a law barring our government from using its considerable bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.

2. It’s also got a law allowing pharmaceutical companies to patent the processes they use to manufacture vaccines and other products from nature.

3. It’s pushed the U.S. Patent Office to renew drug patents on the basis of small and insignificant changes in the original drugs that technically make them “new” and therefore patentable, and has prevented pharmacies from substituting generic versions of brand-name drugs that become different in even the most minor of ways.

4. Due to Big Pharma, America is one of few advanced nations that allow direct advertising of prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical companies aggressively market their brands long after the patents have expired so patients ask doctors to prescribe them.

6. Big Pharma has made it illegal for Americans to obtain from licensed pharmacies abroad cheaper versions of the same drugs sold in the United States, either branded or generic.

7. It’s ensured that the law allows pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. to pay doctors for prescribing their drugs.

8. It’s likewise made sure drug companies are allowed to pay the makers of generic drugs to delay their cheaper versions. Such “pay-for-delay” agreements generate huge profits for both the original manufacturers as well as the generics.

All of this made possible by none other than our benevolent government, conspicuously charged with the duty to protect and to serve its population.

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