Common sense approach to the pharma industry

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SUMMARY: The “goodwill” that many believe was gained from the development of a Covid-19 may be more of a wish than a reality. Pharma companies are still too focused on profits while people continue to rely on prescription drugs to compensate for unhealthy lifestyles.

The headline and byline in a Times editorial said it all “Don’t Fall for Big Pharma’s Savior Act, Heroic work went into the development of the coronavirus vaccines. But that doesn’t mean this industry deserves your affection”. Ouch!

Even amid this public relations coup, pharmaceutical corporations can’t help but revert to type. They will profit handsomely from these vaccines, even when they claim to be acting selflessly. And they largely are monopolizing access, which means that millions in the global south may not get the lifesaving vaccines for months.

New York Times

I’ve been in the industry for a long time and have seen the good and the bad. I understand the hard-working people who really believe in what they’re doing for patients, but senior executives continue to bow to Wall Street. When a new drug is on the horizon stories, the effect, the drug will have on its stock price, not on patients.

As the NY Times reported, obesity is the leading cause of mortality in the United States. Obesity costs the nation $1.72 trillion every year. As Bill Maher pointed out last week, 53 people were killed in mass shootings in August. By comparison, in the same month, 40,000 Americans died because of diseases associated with obesity, causing him to call liberals “the NRA of mayonnaise” for their unwillingness to openly discuss this mass killer. Yet the media continues to blame pharma for our healthcare woes while a new analysis is predicting that by 2030, 48.9% of adults in the United States will be obese and 24.2% will be severely obese.

Then there is the case of high drug prices. Pharma’s “go-to” excuse doesn’t add up anymore, as noted by the article. While pharma continues to advertise help for prescription drug prices, 25% of people say they can’t afford their medications.

It’s easy to blame pharma with their excessive CEO salaries and high profits but the reality is that spending on new drugs continues to be a small part of healthcare spending. Hospitals and services still continue to drive healthcare costs, not pharma. As I have said many times, even if ALL pharmaceutical drugs were free our healthcare costs would still be rising very quickly”.

Common sense tells us that the out-of-control healthcare costs result from both an inefficient system and a public that refuses to acknowledge their responsibility in their own healthcare.

The last two years have shown that the public loves it when the media points the finger of blame. We all want scapegoats for our own ignorance.

Are prescription drugs priced too high? Yes, some of them have no basis in reality, and pharma companies continue to throw money at PhRMA, which continues the outdated argument of drug development costs. However, in 2017, nine out of every 10 prescriptions in the U.S. were dispensed using generic drugs. When both brand and generic versions of the prescribed medication were available, the generic was chosen 97 percent of the time, resulting in significant patient savings.  The U.S. healthcare system saved almost $2 trillion from 2009 to 2019 in healthcare costs due to generic drugs.

Common sense also tells us that we need to stop practicing “preventative medicine”. An MRI should only be requested when absolutely necessary. The AMA should issue guidelines on when a patient should get an MRI or other expensive test.

Then there are the health insurers who raked in $8.2 billion in profit for the fourth quarter of 2019 and $35.7 billion over the course of the year. Some of the largest companies, including AnthemHumana and UnitedHealth Group, are reporting second-quarter earnings that are double what they were a year ago. The companies’ staggering pandemic profits stand in stark contrast to the scores of small medical practices and rural hospitals that are struggling to stay open.

So what does all this mean? Common sense would say that the American healthcare system is a huge mess. It’s just too profitable and every big company wants their share. In the meantime the media will continue to point the finger without really doing their homework.