An inconvenient truth on drug prices

KEY TAKEAWAY: While Democrats and Republicans unite in the fight against high drug prices the fact remains that our healthcare costs are going to continue to increase even if ALL prescription drugs were free.

I can’t defend any drug company that charges a lot of money for a prescription drug and uses the excuse that they need the money for R&D.  Pharma could easily quiet the debate by adopting a policy that “nobody will go without their product because they can’t afford it” but they rather point the finger at drug middlemen which is garbage.

Despite all the media talk about high drug prices the fact remains that between $.10 and $.12 of every healthcare dollar goes to prescription drugs.  The majority of healthcare dollars goes to things like hospital stays and a good part of them are largely preventable.

Chronic diseases and conditions—such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis—are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems.

The Cost of Chronic Diseases and Health Risk Behaviors

In the United States, chronic diseases and conditions and the health risk behaviors that cause them account for most health care costs.

  • Eighty-six percent of all health care spending in 2010 was for people with one or more chronic medical conditions.

  • The total costs of heart disease and stroke in 2010 were estimated to be $315.4 billion. Of this amount, $193.4 billion was for direct medical costs, not including costs of nursing home care.
  • Cancer care cost $157 billion in 2010 dollars.
  • The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity. Decreased productivity includes costs associated with people being absent from work, being less productive while at work, or not being able to work at all because of diabetes.

  • The total cost of arthritis and related conditions was about $128 billion in 2003. Of this amount, nearly $81 billion was for direct medical costs and $47 billion was for indirect costs associated with lost earnings.
  • Medical costs linked to obesity were estimated to be $147 billion in 2008. Annual medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those for people of normal weight in 2006.
  • For the years 2009-2012, economic cost due to smoking is estimated to be more than $289 billion a year. This cost includes at least $133 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion for lost productivity from premature death estimated from 2005 through 2009.
  • The economic costs of drinking too much alcohol were estimated to be $223.5 billion, or $1.90 a drink, in 2006. Most of these costs were due to binge drinking and resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenses, and crimes related to excessive drinking.

So the question becomes why can’t we do something about it?  The AMA has focused, instead, on DTC ads instead of urging insurance companies to cover the costs of consults with dieticians or urging companies to sponsor in house healthy lifestyles.  The government needs to do with obesity, what they did with smoking.  They need to let people know it’s a ticket straight to a shorter life and long hospital stays.

Drug prices are high and there is no defense to charge so much money except to please Wall Street but perhaps the American public and media need to look in the mirror first.