Jun 19, 2017
Prescription drugs are a growing cost in the U.S.; more than a thousand dollars a year is spent, on average, for every man, woman and child. Congress – heavily lobbied by the drug manufacturing industry – refuses to put a limit on what drug companies can charge.
But Congress says it is not legal to purchase drugs from such lower-cost companies as those in Canada or Europe, which charge vastly less for the exact same drugs. Those governments DO put a limit on what the drug companies can charge.
Valeant, a drug company, was in the news for charging $1,472 for a single dose of Isuprel, which was already priced at an outrageous $180 per dose. A drug called Cuprimine, whose patent is owned by Valeant, went from $8.88 to $262.00 per capsule. At another drug company, a course of medicine for hepatitis C currently costs $8,400 for three months; yes, $8,400. That is not a misprint for $84.00.
The drug companies claim they have to charge a lot because it is so expensive to research drugs and carry out many years of required clinical trials. According to Consumer Reports, 38% of all basic science research is tax-payer-funded research done by government agencies. In fact, on average, pharmaceutical companies spend only 16 percent of their expenses on research. Their real expenses lie in advertising and sales: Johnson & Johnson spends twice as much on advertising, marketing and administration as they spend on research, for example.
Generic drugs are supposed to be very similar to brand-name drugs, and sell at a small fraction of the price. But the Food and Drug Administration, charged with checking every drug and clinical trial, is short of funding to hire the needed scientists, which was true even before the new administration came in. The FDA has a ridiculous backlog on generic drugs – 4,300 applications. So generics don't make it to market.
Drug companies also made a great arrangement for their bottom line: keep a drug under patent for 20 years, meaning no other company can make that particular drug, nor can a company make a similar generic version, in order to bring down the price. Then drug companies play their next card, all perfectly legal, which they call "tweaking" the formula. They can make a small change to a drug, for example changing it from a pill to an injection, and keep the patent going for another ten years!
Congress clearly doesn't want to get in the way of the pharmaceutical industry's gigantic profits. But the profits come at a cost to us – not just in money, but in our health.