American healthcare stinks!

  • A pharma company announced this month that it could slow-walk bringing a potentially lifesaving drug to market — to reduce the time it could be subject to President Biden’s recently enacted federal price regulations.
  • Pharma giants are earning vast sums of money on record-breaking price increases, reporting historic profits, yet launching an all-out legal, media, and lobbying assault against the modest drug pricing restrictions.
  • In the past five years, more than half of U.S. adults report they’ve gone into debt because of medical or dental bills, the KFF poll found.
  • On July 1, drugmakers raised the wholesale price on over 123 drugs in the largest number of mid-year price hikes since 2013.

I keep looking for that shining moral compass to emerge within the pharma industry but it may be a long wait.

This month, a Swiss pharmaceutical company announced that it could slow-walk bringing a potentially lifesaving drug to market. The CEO of Genentech, whose parent company, Roche, has reaped as much as $10 billion from Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, seeing its net income go up by an average of more than 50 percent, while its spending on research and development has increased by just 25 percent.

In recent interviews, Roche’s CEO and the CEO of its American subsidiary, Genentech, said that the companies may delay drug research and development because of the new pricing rules in the 2022 drug laws.

Earlier this month, the health news site STAT published an interview with Genentech CEO Alexander Hardy in which he said that the company could delay the release of an effective drug for ovarian cancers to first ensure that it is approved to be sold to the largest population of patients before it is subject to the new price controls.

That is a huge load of horse manure. Since Trump’s tax cuts passed Congress in 2017, Roche’s shareholders have seen a windfall. The company’s net profits immediately jumped by nearly $2 billion to almost $11 billion the following year. By 2022, profits had exceeded $13 billion after steadily increasing for four consecutive years.

Four giant pharmaceutical companies — Astellas, Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson — have also launched lawsuits against the drug negotiation plan. Roche and its subsidiaries have spent nearly $6 million on federal lobbying efforts this year, including implementing the law.

This comes at a time when healthcare debt is killing us. In the past five years, more than half of U.S. adults report they’ve gone into debt because of medical or dental bills, the KFF poll found. A quarter of adults with healthcare debt owe more than $5,000. And about 1 in 5 with any amount of debt said they don’t expect to ever pay it off. The burden is forcing families to cut spending on food and other essentials. The poll found that millions are being driven from their homes or into bankruptcy.

According to the poll, about 1 in 7 people with debt said they’ve been denied access to a hospital, doctor, or other provider because of unpaid bills. An even greater share ― about two-thirds ― have put off care they or a family member need because of cost.

The KHN-NPR investigation shows.

  • About 50 million adults ― roughly 1 in 5 ― are paying off bills for their care or a family member’s through an installment plan with a hospital or other provider, the KFF poll found. Such debt arrangements don’t appear on credit reports unless a patient stops paying.
  • One in 10 owe money to a friend or family member who covered their medical or dental bills, another form of borrowing not customarily measured.
  • Still, more debt ends on credit cards, as patients charge their bills and run up balances, piling high-interest rates on top of what they owe for care. About 1 in 6 adults are paying off a medical or dental bill they put on a card.

 An earlier KFF analysis of federal data estimated that collective medical debt totaled at least $195 billion in 2019, more significant than the economy of Greece.

Spending on healthcare programs is slated to rise from 6.5% of GDP in 2023 to 10.1% in 2053. Why is that? A bit of the increase is from population aging, but the bulk is due to the rising cost of healthcare. The U.S. spends twice as much on healthcare as the average for the other OECD countries and has worse outcomes on critical metrics such as infant mortality and obesity.

The Inflation Reduction Act took an essential step in that direction by giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies — an activity that Medicare has been explicitly barred from doing. The legislation also gives the government real leverage; if companies do not comply, they will face a substantial excise tax, or they can withdraw all of their drugs from coverage under Medicare and Medicaid.

The bottom line is that our healthcare system is out of control in pursuit of profit. It has to end.