Friday, August 14, 2015

Doctors Are Correct to Wage War On Drug Prices

Under the header "It's About damned time",  is the outcry less than a month ago by more than one hundred oncologists from top cancer hospitals that the cost of cancer drugs is way too high. Indeed, the cost of many drugs is too high, and Americans are literally being taken to the cleaners by Big PhRMA.  So no surprise many doctors, not just oncologists (cancer specialists), are calling for new regulations to control the costs.

In fact, the oncologists and other doctors are only the latest to make vocal complaints. Preceding them have been insurers, state Medicaid officials, and most of all patients - many of whom have been forced to forego prescriptions because of the exorbitant costs.  All this in the wake of prescription drug prices rising more than 12 percent last year, and many prescriptions increasing more than 100 percent.

For example, as noted in an NBC News segment last night, one pharmacist complained that "it was the craziest price increase ever seen" in his life. He cited the wholesale price for the diabetes drug Glumetza which went from $1,000 for 90 days supply in January to just over $10,000 in July. He noted he had no choice but to pass the higher costs on.

The plight of patients was highlighted in one Mayo Clinic Proceedings editorial in which the financial burden was emphasized with the out of pocket costs bankrupting many just as they're fighting a deadly disease. As a result 10 to 20 percent of cancer patients don't fulfill their treatments as prescribed - and their cancers metastasize.  And 75% of other prescription drug takers have cut back on their medications, risking complications. No country with any dimension of decency can allow this to go on.

Fortunately some members of congress are on to this and have demanded that the pharmaceutical companies justify the pricing of hepatitis C medication which now runs tens of thousands of dollars per patient.  

Bernie Sanders, for example, has already advised the Department of Veterans Affairs to break the patents on hep C drugs so that generics companies can manufacture more of them for ailing vets. The problem is the Repukes won't hear of it as it constitutes "statist" interference in private business - so let the vets fend for themselves.

But this ought not be amazing or surprising given this is the typical Reptile response to everything concerning regular citizens - i.e. those not born with gilded spoons in their mouths.

Meanwhile, more sobering for many, has been the announcement from Medicare's Board of Trustees that expensive new medications will drive a sharp increase in the program's prescription drug spending over the next decade. In this milieu cancer medication increases have drawn particular ire with the average price of new cancer drugs having increased in the U.S. five fold to ten fold over 15 years to over $100,000 a year in 2015.

This isn't merely criminal, it's an abomination given those who can't afford the drugs are being issued a death  sentence. The newest and most effective drugs are those that harness the patient's own immune system and these can run up to $150,000 per patient per year. And the annual cost per patient could approach $300,000/ year if cancer drugs are prescribed in combination

As one Mayo Clinic hematologist put it:

"What we're fighting is the greed. The greed and the additional maneuvering that is being exercised after you've already recouped what you've invested. There is no control, no regulation."

This raises the plausible thesis that this "additional maneuvering" with no oversight - was actually built into the "Medicare Modernization Act" that Billy Tauzin and his Reepo criminal congress forced through back in 2003 - to the cheers of Big PhRMA.  It was no wonder that soon after it passed, Goldman Sachs estimated the benefit to PhRMA ( in terms of corporate welfare), would be over $13.7 b over ten years. It's probably even more now.

Indeed, another vile aspect of the 2003 law was that it barred Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices like the VA does. The law actually leaves the negotiating to private insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers. The very existence of this refuse denies Medicare the ability to drive down prices - and indeed control prices. But then many of us at the time suspected the maggot Bushies were behind this recklessly expensive, bogus law as a means to rush Medicare toward insolvency - the better to privatize it. They even embedded a Trojan horse in the law called "Medicare Advantage" which is now spending $12b a year more than traditional Medicare.

Of course, the usual excuse trotted out by PhRMA for its current skyrocketing drug prices is that it "costs so much for research" - which is arrant bull pockey. The truth is the drug companies are blowing most of their profits and returns on TV advertising. Just look at a typical prime time news broadcast on any of the networks, you are sure to see at least five drug ads including one for Cialis or Viagra, every damned night.

All hope is not lost but it will still be an uphill battle, especially against the defenders of the PhRMA goons. Already, some Senators - such as John McCain (R-AZ) and Amy Klobuchar (D, MN) have supported legislation that would allow patients to import cheaper drugs from Canada. (Which option had also been foreclosed under the 2003 'Modernization'  Act.)

Others have called for the pharmaceutical industry to justify its rising prices - which I believe is one of the most urgent steps to hold these bastards accountable.  These efforts include one California bill demanding the PhrMA leeches provide a detailed breakdown of costs, including for clinical trials, regulatory expenses, advertising, manufacturing and acquisition costs - and for all drugs that have an annual wholesale price of $10,000 or more.

This is a step long overdue and let's hope it succeeds! For all our sakes!

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