Thursday, August 10, 2017

Americans Pay More For Prescription Drugs Because Our Politicians Take Bribes From Pharmaceutical Companies


For me, one of the worst-- and longest lasting-- side effects from chemotherapy is peripheral neuropathy. I'll spare you the details but it's gotten worse, and continues to get worse, with time. Yesterday, my doctor told me that there are ongoing studies that show an anti-convulsive compound, lacosamide, which is used to treat epilepsy and seizures, has been effective for some people in treating peripheral neuropathy. She told me that one of her patients had lost the ability to walk and that once he started using lacosamide he began walking again. So... she wrote me a prescription and my insurance company, Humana, said NO. That's what they do... and my doctor is fighting with them as I write this post. Without the insurance the drug, marketed as "Vimpat," would cost me $540/month. I looked the same drug up on Canadian and U.K. websites and found that it costs $187.38 in the U.K. and $236.22 in Canada. That's a lot of dough. A year's worth in the U.S. would be $6,480. A year's worth from Canada would be $2,834.64. That's $3,645.36 right out of my pocket just because conservatives in Congress allow pharmaceutical companies to rip off Americans in return for huge annual contributions to their careers, otherwise known to anyone with two IQ digits to rub together as bribery. First, the dozen worst enablers of the drugs companies among current members of Congress, based on the amount of pharma bribes since 1990:
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)- $2,564,441
Richard Burr (R-NC)- $1,512,262
Anna Eshoo (D-CA)- $1,502,561
Fred Upton (R-MI)- $1,406,006
John McCain (R-AZ)- $1,224,519
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)- $1,147,905
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)- $1,098,622
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $1,053,483
Erik Paulsen (R-MN)- $1,004,329
Roy Blunt (R-MO)- $998,106
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $995,125
John Shimkus (R-IL)- $981,583

On January 31, Señor Trumpanzee met with pharmaceutical executives, promising them to get rid of regulations and telling them to lower drug prices. Josh Keefe wrote a piece this week for International Business News that explains why it's Bernie, not Trumpanzee who is going to solve the price rip-offs.
While both political parties have denounced the rising cost of prescription drugs, neither Democrats nor Republicans have done much to address the problem. But this summer, a new tool to restrict the rising prices of drugs developed with taxpayer dollars has been introduced by the two U.S. senators who don’t belong to either party.

The mechanism works like this: Drug manufacturers who take federal money to develop drugs must keep their U.S. prices in line with the prices they charge in other economically advanced nations-- typically much lower than drug prices in the U.S.

The system would prevent pharmaceutical companies from effectively double-charging U.S. consumers by using their tax money for research and then charging them some of the steepest prices in the world at the pharmacy. Pharmaceutical companies, who pour millions of dollars into both the Democratic and Republican parties, are against the idea, which is perhaps why the fix is being pushed by Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, the only independents in congress.

The U.S. has the highest level of per capita pharmaceutical spending of any nation on Earth, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And while Americans spend more than any other country to buy their drugs, they also spend more than any other country to develop those same drugs.

In June, King successfully added language to the 2018 military spending bill (still working its way through congress) that would allow the Department of Defense to take away exclusive patents from drug companies that benefitted from DoD funding if their drug price in the U.S. rises above the median price in seven foreign countries with similar economies.

Then last week, Sanders introduced legislation that would tie the prices of drugs made with government funding to costs in other countries. Unlike King’s language, Sanders’ bill would expand the concept beyond the DoD. The bill requires companies taking federal funds to develop drugs to enter into “reasonable pricing” agreements with the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“Under this insane system, Americans pay twice. First we pay to create these lifesaving drugs, then we pay high prices to buy those drugs,” wrote Sanders in a New York Times op-ed. “Our government must stop being pushovers for the pharmaceutical industry and its 1,400 lobbyists.”

The bill defines a “reasonable price” as no more than the lowest prices charged in countries with GDP and per capita income similar to the U.S. (The bill specifically pegs pricing to countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.)

The proposal is the latest salvo in Sanders’ effort to stop the military from granting French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur the exclusive right to sell a Zika vaccine.

“The days of allowing Sanofi and other drug makers to gouge American consumers after taking billions in taxpayer money must end,” Sanders told HuffPost this week. “That is why I am introducing legislation to demand fairer, lower prices for the Zika vaccine and for every drug developed with government resources.”

...[T]he benefits flow both ways between the pharmaceutical industry and Washington, which is why the Sanders bill faces an uphill battle to reach the floor for a vote. The bill was sent to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, which is chaired by Lamar Alexander. Pharmaceutical and health products companies gave more to Alexander’s campaigns between 2011 and 2016 than did any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And even if the bill gets to the floor, it would face opposition from the industry’s 1,350 lobbyists, who don’t come cheap. The pharmaceutical and health products industry has spent a remarkable $144 million on lobbying so far in 2017, more than double what the defense industry has spent over the same time period.

“Proposals to insert a reasonable pricing clause ignore the substantial R&D investments and risks undertaken by the private sector in developing and bringing a new medicine to patients,” the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which has spent $14 million on lobbying so far this year, told IBT in a statement. “Such proposals undermine critical intellectual property rights and incentives, create substantial uncertainty for companies and establish completely arbitrary criteria for taking intellectual property. This could chill critically needed collaborations and investment by the private sector to address some of our most serious unmet medical needs.”

The pharmaceutical industry, which says it costs $2.6 billion to bring a drug to market (while spending more on marketing than research) made a similar argument against “reasonable pricing” more than two decades ago, when it successfully persuaded the Clinton administration to repeal a “reasonable pricing” rule implemented by President George H.W. Bush.

After the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, private researchers could patent intellectual property they developed using federal funding. But by the late 1980s, outrage over the $8,000 annual cost of AIDS drug AZT, which was the only drug approved for treatment of the disease at the time, prompted the Bush administration to implement price control measures. In 1989, NIH was granted the right to review the introductory prices of drugs that were produced with government research, over the objections of the pharmaceutical industry.

“The Bush administration felt it was appropriate to expect some concessions on pricing if the government was involved in the drug and funding research,” James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, told IBT. Love researched the original rule while working for Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law in the early 1990s.

But unlike the specific criteria for reasonable pricing put forth in the Sanders bill, the Bush rule was a bit ambiguous. “The agreements said something to the effect that it had to show some relationship between price and government’s role in developing the drug... Nobody really knew what it meant,” Love said.

Just six years later, the Clinton administration rescinded the order on the grounds that it was harmful to innovation.

“The pricing clause has driven industry away from potentially beneficial scientific collaborations... without providing an offsetting benefit to the public,” NIH Director Dr. Harold Varmus said at the time. “Eliminating the clause will promote research that can enhance the health of the American people.”
By the way, pharmaceutical companies and executives gave Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign $12,137,835 in the 2016 cycle above and beyond they gave her while she was running for the Senate. I wonder what they liked about her. The CBO analyzed Bernie's Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada and other countries and estimated that it would save taxpayers nearly $7 billion over the next 10 years. Bernie introduced the bill at the end of February-- which has a companion bill in the House that was introduced by Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). He took note of Trump's bullshit on the issue of prescription prices: "I say to President Trump: Talk is cheap. If you really have the guts to take on the pharmaceutical industry, tell your Republican friends in the House and the Senate to pass this legislation. Do it tonight in your address to Congress. Or admit to the American people that you were lying to them during the campaign.

Cummings added, "After he was elected, President Trump said he would bring down drug prices. He also warned that the pharmaceutical industry is 'getting away with murder,' and he was absolutely right. So, if the President really means what he says, he will support our efforts, and he will encourage his Republican colleagues to do the same.”

Over 70% of Americans support this approach and the the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act-- which McConnell and Ryan have bottled up in committees-- "would instruct the secretary of Health and Human Services to put forward regulations allowing wholesalers, pharmacies and individuals to import qualifying prescription drugs from licensed Canadian sellers. After two years, the secretary would have the authority to permit importation from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with standards for the approval and sale of prescription drugs that are comparable to those in the United States. The bill includes detailed provisions outlining safeguards and consumer protections that ensure the safety of imported drugs, including FDA certification of foreign sellers, a clear definition of what drugs may be imported and supply chain security requirements. Legally imported drugs under the bill must be purchased from an FDA-certified foreign seller and must have the same active ingredient, route of administration and strength as drugs approved in the United States. The new agreement also cracks down on rogue online pharmacies."

There are 29 co-sponsors in the House, predominantly progressives like Ro Khanna (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD). No Republicans and no Blue Dogs. Today we asked a couple of the Blue America candidates for their perspectives on this. Dr. David Gill was the first to say he did. "Practicing emergency medicine provides me the opportunity to witness so many flaws with our health care 'system' here in America. This particular issue, the outrageous cost of prescription drugs in our country, is among the most galling. Before I write a prescription for a patient, I always have to inquire about their insurance status and their ability to actually buy the medication I intend to prescribe. I frequently have to go with my second or third or fourth choice of medication, to provide something to the patient that they'll be able to afford. And it's this way pretty much just here in America-- we're the one so-called first-class nation that treats its citizens in such a disrespectful, uncaring way. Of course it needn't be this way. If we had a Congress which wasn't in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry, it wouldn't be this way. Medicare would be negotiating prices with drug companies and we'd be importing drugs from other countries. Ultimately, when we finally have the single-payer system that's been so desperately needed in America for so many decades, this issue will thankfully fade away."

The other medical doctor endorsed by Blue America, Houston oncologist Jason Westin told us that "Prescription drug prices are a huge problem for my patients and people all across America. Many new cancer-fighting drugs cost tens of thousands or more per year, and the prices seem to climb every year even for established drugs. In 2012, 12 of the 13 new drugs approved for treating cancer cost more than $100,000 per year, and it's just getting worse. If we want to have a serious discussion about controlling healthcare costs, prescription drug prices must be on the table. The solutions in the Sanders/Cummings bills are a start to right this wrong."

Goal ThermometerAnd then Paul Clements, the southwest Michigan progressive running for the seat occupied by one of Big Pharma's best friends, Fred Upton, told us that "If elected to Congress I will support Bernie Sanders’ and Angus King’s Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act. My opponent, Congressman Fred Upton, helped to create the conditions that let drug companies get away with highway robbery against Americans when we are most vulnerable: when we are sick. He has sponsored legislation making it illegal to import generics from Canada and other countries-- even if they are just as safe as locally produced versions. This is some of the legislation the Sanders-King bill would overturn. And in return Upton has benefited handsomely in campaign contributions from the Big Pharma. This is, sadly, yet another example of how money in politics undermines our democracy, hurts working people, transfers our money to the 1%, and, by raising the cost of health care, undermines the competitiveness of our economy. Money in politics is turning (has turned?) America into a plutocracy. We need to combat price gouging by pharmaceutical companies, and we need deep and comprehensive campaign finance reform. In Congress this will be part of my mission."

Labels: , , , , ,


At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that Dubya played a role in this by pushing Medicare Part D which made it illegal for the Federal Government (that part which ISN'T the Veterans Administration) to negotiate drug prices, which made it illegal to import drugs even if originally made in the US, and other elements which are very hostile to humans. Complicit Democrats NEVER mention this anymore. Bribes? Smells like it!

At 5:00 AM, Blogger Alex Levine said...

Actually, drug companies do not double charge consumers. They triple charge them by using offshore tax dodges to shelter their US profits from income taxes.

At 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

democraps supported medicare part D in big numbers. obamanation's aca didn't change one single letter of that law.

'nuf said.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice basis for an article until he begins with Trumpanzee and put son his tin-foil political hat. Too bad he didn't end this blog entry after naming the dozen senators.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Mrx99 said...

What is wrong with you people. Cannabis is the most effective herb in the world, I saw it used on a baby that had convulsions every thirty minutes and after rubbing some oil on her gums she stopped convulsing for nearly a week. Get the senators to approve it's use and kiss the other stuff goodbye.


Post a Comment

<< Home