Stop blaming pharma for your bad habit​s

KEY SUMMARY: The idea that pharma “likes to keep people sick” is an excuse for poor lifestyle choices. The percentage of people who are overweight or obese soared from 22 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 2016, nearly doubling. Obesity impacts where consumers spend their money. An individual with a body mass index (BMI) that’s considered “obese” spends 42 percent more on direct health care costs than adults who are a healthy weight.

American’s love to play the “blame game” over everything from wages to healthcare costs. Some people even are saying that pharma likes to keep people sick so they can collect more money selling prescription drugs. That is beyond absurd.

The United States’ high health-care costs and poor outcomes have provoked hand-wringing, and rightly so: Every other high-income country in the world spends less than America does as a share of GDP, and surpasses us in most key health outcomes.

Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?

A 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that 74 percent of the variation in life expectancy across counties is explained by health-related lifestyle factors such as inactivity and smoking, and by conditions associated with them, such as obesity and diabetes—which is to say, by patients themselves.

One cost-reduction measure used around the world is to exclude an expensive treatment from health coverage if it hasn’t been solidly proved effective, or is only slightly more effective than cheaper alternatives. But when American insurance companies try this approach, they invariably run into a buzz saw of public outrage. 

American patients’ flagrant disregard for routine care is another problem. Take the failure to stick to prescribed drugs, one more bad behavior in which American patients lead the world. The estimated per capita cost of drug noncompliance is up to three times as high in the U.S. as in the European Union. And when Americans go to the doctor, they are more likely than people in other countries to head to expensive specialists. A British Medical Journal study found that U.S. patients end up with specialty referrals at more than twice the rate of U.K. patients. They also end up in the ER more often, at enormous cost. According to another study, this one of chronic migraine sufferers, 42 percent of U.S. respondents had visited an emergency department for their headaches, versus 14 percent of U.K. respondents.

Then there the recently reported data that patients diagnosed with cancer are living longer largely because of new cancer treatments. If, in the near future, a drug company might develop an even better way to treat cancer it would be huge considering that 20% of all cancers are preventable.

Until Americans start taking better care of themselves and until insurance companies focus more on prevention healthcare costs are going to continue to rise but that’s ok because we’re good at blaming everyone but ourselves.