- Jasmin Weaver is the executive vice president of Civic Ventures. She has worked at the state, local, and federal levels developing and implementing policies and overseeing advocacy efforts. She is a rotating co-host of the Pitchfork Economics podcast with Nick Hanauer.
- She testified before Congress about “out of control prescription drug pricing” ten years ago – and says that the problem has only gotten worse.
- While she says that no one solution will completely remedy the issue, removing profit incentives and reforming patents may both make a difference.
- For more on this topic, listen to the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Ten years ago, I testified before Congress about out-of-control prescription drug pricing. Three years after my testimony, my oldest child was born with asthma and a life-threatening nut allergy. As I’ve worked hard to ensure his health and well-being over the past seven years, I’ve been saddened to see that drug pricing has only gotten worse.
Every time I head to the pharmacy to buy the life-saving medications that my son needs, I’m confronted with sticker-shock. I have good health insurance, but the EpiPens that could save his life from anaphylactic shock still often cost $US100 per refill. And any parent of a child with a severe allergy can tell you that they need multiple EpiPens in every possible location to cover any eventuality – he carries one in his backpack, one at school, one at home, and one goes to summer camp and any other caregivers who watch him away from home. Plus, the drugs expire within a year, so I’m always replacing them.
Many families have it far worse. As I mentioned, my family has excellent health insurance and the costs are within the realm of affordability for us – though I’m always searching for online coupons to reduce price tag of each EpiPen. But when I drop my son off at school, I know that the parents of dozens of his classmates simply can’t afford to pay for this life-saving medication. So they cut corners: they let the drugs run well past their expiration date or they simply go without and pray for the best. Nearly a quarter of all Americans report having trouble filling a needed prescription due to increased costs.
It is unacceptable to treat drugs like some faddish consumer product. All parents deserve the right to protect their children and keep them healthy. These are not new and innovative drugs, and each dose contains only about a dollar’s worth of active medicine. EpiPens didn’t used to be this expensive in America and they shouldn’t be this expensive. And yet the costs keep climbing. How can that be?
Skyrocketing pharmaceutical prices are a result of overlapping market failures and monopolies. When you visit the pharmacy to fill a prescription, there are three or four distinct entities (including the manufacturers, the pharmacies, the pharmacy benefit managers, and insurers) taking a cut from your purchase. Among the worst actors is big Pharma, which benefits from an untenable patent system that gives corporations way too much power over the production and distribution of prescription drugs, choking off competitors and allowing them to set prices astronomically high.
On this week’s episode of Pitchfork Economics, Nick Hanauer and I talked with two people who are taking very different approaches to solving America’s out-of-control drug pricing problem.
Billionaire John Arnold founded an organisation called Arnold Ventures that has distributed more than $US175 million in grants to nonprofits and universities in the hopes of lowering health care costs, largely by advocating for lower drug prices.
One of Arnold’s largest investments is in Civica Rx, a nonprofit generic drug company founded last year with the bold strategy of charging one single market price, no matter who’s buying. Every small rural hospital that buys from Civica Rx, regardless of size, will enjoy the same prices and contract terms as large-volume hospitals. By removing profit-driven market incentives from the pricing of drugs, Arnold hopes to introduce more stability for consumers.
But remember – these high prices are the result of multiple intersecting bad systems. Simply hoping for market pressures to stabilise drug costs isn’t enough. That’s where Priti Krishtel, co-founder and co-executive director of I-MAK.org, a global non-profit working to lower drug prices for 15 years, comes in.
Krishtel is fighting to pass health-friendly patent laws that encourage the breaking up of drug monopolies and increase access to medicines worldwide. She’s worked hard to debunk the trickle-down argument that high drug prices spur Big Pharma to increase research toward innovative new drugs. In fact, as profits have risen for common medications like EpiPens and inhalers, Big Pharma has gotten less innovative and expansive in its research and development.
Advocates like Krishtel and Arnold are both doing important work, but we need a wide array of advocates and allies fighting to keep health costs down. Because the prescription-pricing crisis is layered and systemic, it’s important to note that no one solution is enough to bring drug costs down to a reasonable level. Even if in everyone in America somehow agreed to switch over to a Medicare for All single-payer system starting tomorrow, our broken pharmaceutical patent system would still be driving drug costs higher and higher.
Of course, a system in which wealthy people can afford the best care while more than half of Americans delay or go without treatment cannot stand. The people have started to demand real change: a 2018 Harvard/Politico poll found that four out of five Americans want Congress to lower prescription drug prices. And they want those lower prices now: poll respondents from both political parties ranked controlling medicine costs as their top priority for 2019. That demonstrates the kind of political will that can’t be ignored forever. When parents can’t provide for the safety of their own children, they start to fight back.
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