I’m not sure where to start. Yesterday I read a post on LinkedIn from someone who retired from our industry and is fighting MLS. She’s fighting with Medicare Advantage over treatment which will cost her $9,300 out-of-pocket. She asks, “why develop new treatments and make them only accessible to commercially insured patients?” She says, “as a past Pharma exec, we say a lot about putting the patient at the center of all we do and being patient-focused. But, I can tell you – sitting on the other side, being a patient with ALS – and constantly fighting for care – patients are not the most important priority. Sad to realize this.”
I keep asking myself, “why can’t pharma executives do much more to make their medications accessible to ALL patients?”
Widespread medical debt is a uniquely American problem, totaling at least $195 billion in 2019. It was once thought that the problem was that Americans were largely uninsured, but even those with health coverage can run into problems. Over 90% of the U.S. population has some medical insurance, but about 40% of adults say they have at least $250 in medical debt.
There are a lot of bad CEOs who tarnish their companies. One of the worst is AbbVie. AbbVie, for years, delayed competition for its blockbuster drug Humira at the expense of patients and taxpayers.
Next week, the curtain is expected to come down on a monopoly that has generated $114 billion in revenue for AbbVie since the end of 2016. The knockoff drug regulators authorized more than six years ago, Amgen’s Amjevita will come to market in the United States. As many as nine more Humira competitors will follow this year from pharmaceutical giants, including Pfizer. Prices are likely to tumble.
Medicare, which in 2020 covered the cost of Humira for 42,000 patients, spent $2.2 billion more on the drug from 2016 to 2019 than it would have if competitors had been allowed to start selling their drugs promptly. In interviews, patients said they had to forgo treatment or were planning to delay their retirement due to enormous out-of-pocket costs for Humira.
Even now, as AbbVie prepares for competitors to erode its Humira sales in the United States, the company will have a new way to make more money from the drug. Under the terms of the legal settlements it reached with rival manufacturers from 2017 to 2022, AbbVie will earn royalties from the knockoff products that it delayed.
How in the hell can anyone with a conscious work for AbbVie? How can they follow a CEO who was compensated to keep their drug from going off-patent? Is there no shame? Have their employees become so addicted to their paychecks that they are willing to overlook the damage caused by their strategy, or are they telling lies to themselves about “doing good” for patients?
I used to say proudly that I worked in healthcare marketing. I don’t say that anymore. My conscious won’t let me.