After the Internet’s swift condemnation of Turing Pharmaceuticals’ decision to ratchet up the price of the lifesaving toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill, Turing CEO Martin Shkreli eventually recanted and announced that he would be lowering the price — although he has yet to say when or by how much. Now Imprimis Pharmaceuticals has stepped up to make alternative treatment available for $1, providing intense relief to individuals at risk of toxoplasmosis, which disproportionately affects people living with HIV and AIDS.
When the scandal first broke, I was afraid that the story would subside and get swallowed by the 24-hour Internet outrage cycle, but thankfully the conversation has continued, with many calling for systemic reform. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have put forth plans to prevent patients from going bankrupt, but no real progress has been made to limit abuse by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. Now I am afraid that Imprimis Pharmaceuticals’ noble decision to offer a pro bono alternative to Daraprim is going to distract from the very real need for consumer protections.
Imprimis CEO Mark L. Baum has acknowledged that “this is not the first time a sole supply generic drug — especially one that has been approved for use as long as Daraprim — has had its price increased suddenly and to a level that may make it unaffordable,” going on to assert that “some drug prices are simply out of control.” While I commend both his actions and his statements, I have to point out that the solution here is not drug companies banding together to pick up the slack where they see moral failings in their industry, and very few of the glowing articles I have read this week have made the point that we need to continue pushing our politicians for reform.
If a company can arbitrarily increase the cost of lif-saving medications upward of 5,000 percent overnight, we have to consider what this means for patients, even if the medication in question doesn’t effect us personally. To cure hepatitis C can still cost a person more than $100,000 — approximately $1,000 a pill for some treatments. Not only are drugs considerably more expensive in the U.S. than they are in other countries, the cost is disproportionately laid on consumers — and good luck to you if you can’t afford the right kind of insurance or, worse, can’t afford insurance at all. Our elected officials could do something about this situation — but they’re under tremendous pressure not to.
The truth is, politicians are as afraid of pharmaceutical companies as they are of the NRA. The drug lobby is powerful, and millions of dollars exchange hands every year to protect their interests over the interests of the American people. I don’t have all the solutions, but I do know that these issues are not going to be addressed if we leave it up to the private sector. For me, it all goes back to campaign finance reform — if we can take giant corporations’ millions out of politics, maybe our elected officials can be convinced to value people over profits again. In the meantime we all need to raise our voices and do our best to make sure this issue doesn’t fade away.