The internet may have experienced its biggest outrage ever last month, when pharma bro Martin Shkreli acquired exclusive rights to sell the drug Daraprim and proceeded to raise the price 5,000 percent. This is a life-saving medication for AIDS patients and cancer survivors undergoing chemotherapy, as it prevents infections in people with weakened immune systems.
Being absent of decency and suffused with greed is a way of life in the government-backed Wall St. industry. Valeant Pharmaceuticals CEO Michael Pearson is the latest to demonstrate this.
Rather than focusing on one drug as Shkreli did, the Wall St. darling is jacking up prices for a number of critical brand-name drugs. So far in 2015, Valeant raised prices an average of 66 percent, which is five times as much as its closest industry peers.
Valeant quadrupled the price of Cuprimine overnight, a decades-old drug that treats an inherited disorder called Wilson disease. For one retired carpenter, whose life depends on the drug, it means that he will have to pay $1,800 out of pocket per month, instead of the $366 he used to pay.
Valeant raised the price of Glumetza, a diabetes drug, 800 percent after acquiring the rights this year. Isuprel, which treats heart conditions, now costs eight times what it did last year. Mephyton, which helps blood clotting, went from $9.37 a tablet to $58.75. Edecrin, which treats kidney and liver disease, went from $470 a vial to $4,600.
The company is not interested in research and development of new drugs, as are conventional pharmaceutical companies. Valeant just buys up existing drug companies and jacks up prices wherever possible, focusing mostly on older drugs that still have patent protection or have no generic competition.
It is important to note that making a profit is not the issue at hand with the pharmaceutical companies hiking prices. The issue is that the prices are able to be hiked to such extremes because of government programs which grant these drug makers monopolies in their fields. Pharmaceutical companies use the force of the state to legislate their potential competition out of the market, thereby creating huge windfalls for themselves.
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Valeant says it has everyone’s best interests at heart, stating that it “prices its treatments based on a range of factors, including clinical benefits and the value they bring to patients, physicians, payers, and society.”
Pearson says when “products are sort of mispriced and there’s an opportunity, we will act appropriately in terms of doing what I assume our shareholders would like us to do.”
They rely on the justification that patients will be shielded from skyrocketing expenses by insurance companies and government programs, displaying a willful ignorance of the bigger picture.
“But even if patients are often shielded, the costs are paid by insurers, hospitals and taxpayers and lead to higher premiums and co-payments for everyone, critics say.
Jeffrey M. Rosner, the senior director for pharmacy sourcing and purchasing at the Cleveland Clinic, said that nine drugs with particularly egregious price increases had cost the hospital an additional $11.2 million annually, an increase of about 10 percent in drug costs for hospitalized patients. And Valeant’s products represented 80 percent of that additional cost, he said.”
Valeant’s actions amount to a raping of the system, burrowing into every crevice to squeeze out profit before the parts of the system can adjust. For instance, when Valeant jacks up the price of a drug, it could stimulate generic alternatives, but they would take years to get approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Even other pharma companies have distanced themselves Valeant and its brethren Turing, owned by Shkreli.
“The more conventional companies and their backers argue that research and development has a high risk of failure, so they deserve premium prices when a drug succeeds. They now are concerned that innovation will be undermined by a reaction to price increases imposed by companies like Turing and Valeant.
Jacking up prices of old drugs, “with no R&D risk-taking, is just not right,” Bruce Booth, a prominent life sciences venture capitalist, posted on Twitter Tuesday, adding that the practice “hurts the industry & innovators.””
While Valeant sucks the blood of American patients, hospitals, insurance companies, and government programs, it is officially based in Canada, which allows it to pay extremely low taxes.
People who rely on Valeant's drugs to avoid death and sickness must alter their lifestyles to cover the profits of Pearson and Wall St. investors. They scrimp on groceries and go back to work after retiring, their spouses takes second jobs, and they apply for financial assistance.
Hillary Clinton feigned indignation at drug price gouging, and House Democrats were demanding that Valeant be subpoenaed for information on two drugs they acquired in February. But the posturing rings hollow when we consider that government helps create the problem.