Today, as the coronavirus kills more than two thousand Americans every day, President Donald Trump’s political opponents blame him for everything. Supposedly, he ruined health care, couldn’t provide beds for the sick population and did not appreciate the danger of COVID-19 in time.
However, the collapse of American medicine began in the late 90s for most of the population. Trump was just trying to slow it down. For example, he launched an open war against American “Big Pharma.” However, it was almost impossible to win. For many years, one of the main problems of American health care has been the price of medications whose steady growth is due solely to the greed of producers.
In 2015, the global press bowed to Martin Shkreli. The smart hedge fund manager bought the rights to a popular HIV drug and immediately raised the price of the pill from $13.50 to $750. Shkreli was named the most hated person of the year, but it didn’t help, as he didn’t reduce the price of the drug.
In fact, there was nothing unique about it. All American pharmaceutical companies have been raising drug prices at a rapid pace in recent years, just on the sly while trying to avoid scandals. The well-known Novartis Corporation released a cancer drug in 2003. Since then, its price has soared 22 times over. Today, a year’s course of treatment costs $123,000.
Manufacturers of orphan drugs designed to treat rare diseases are making fantastic profits. The price for a year’s course of one is in the region of half a million dollars.
In just six months in 2019, the legendary Prozac — a medication for depression — rose in price 8.8 times.
The rise in prices for life-saving drugs is particularly eerie. An ordinary dose of insulin rose in price three times from 2009 to 2019 — from $90 to $330. Health insurance covers the cost of insulin, but almost 2 million diabetics have no health insurance.
A year ago, thirty-six-year-old Laura Marston told the BBC how she was left without health insurance after the closure of the firm where she worked. She said, “I was spending $2,880 a month just to stay alive.” Until she found a job, Marston had to sell her apartment, furniture and car, as well as spend all her retirement savings — all just to buy life-saving medicine.
In desperation, people try to stretch a single dose of insulin into several doses. This is often fatal. This is how twenty-six-year-old Alec Smith died in 2017, just a month after losing his health insurance. Smith worked full time, but he still didn’t have a thousand dollars a month for insulin.
The high cost of antibiotics has led many Americans to buy veterinary drugs, penicillin for aquarium fish, for example, is popular. What can you do if a “human” bottle of a popular antibiotic that was produced in the 1950s costs $2400 to $2800?
By the way, it’s funny that statistics do not seem to notice the record increase in drug prices, just as they do not notice the record rise in real estate prices. The official rate of inflation in the U.S is still hovering around 1.5%, which, of course, has nothing to do with reality.
The lack of available medicines in the U.S. is absolutely unique. The issue is not only the price of medicines, but also the fact that local pharmaceutical companies have completely monopolized the market and blocked any legal opportunity for Americans to buy necessary pills at a reasonable price.
The local market is tightly closed to cheap imported generics. Citizens can only import a small amount of medicine from abroad if they have a prescription for it from a doctor. Otherwise, it is not possible to buy the drug at a pharmacy without a prescription and it is illegal to buy them on foreign sites or on social networks.
In other words, a person without insurance (currently 40 million Americans) falls ill and gets into a Kafkaesque situation. He can’t buy anything but paracetamol at the pharmacy. To get the same antibiotic, he needs a prescription from a doctor. To see a doctor without insurance, he needs to pay a lot of money. But he doesn’t have any money, or he would have bought insurance.
However, insurance often covers only part of the drug’s cost. Therefore, a third of American patients try to not buy prescription drugs at all.
Americans owe the drug crisis to the invisible hand of the market. This hand regularly picks their pockets without the slightest interference from the government. The country simply does not have a government body that could regulate drug prices. The one federal agency that should, in theory, control the production of medicines in the U.S. is the Food and Drug Administration. But pharmaceutical companies have successfully resolved their issue with the FDA: by some strange coincidence, its leaders are constantly people who have worked for the largest pharmaceutical companies their whole lives.
However, even the FDA does not have the right to control drug prices. This year, the injustice prevailing in the market was so obvious that Congress was forced to investigate the activities of pharmaceutical companies.
However, the investigation is being conducted without much zeal. American critics of “Big Pharma” claim that industry representatives spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to bribe politicians, promote their candidates and lobby for their interests. Both Democratic and Republican representatives promote their interests.
Only two politicians tried to somehow fight the dominance of pharmaceutical companies, Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump who both turned out to be outcasts to their own party members. Some business interests probably really do connect the political establishment and pharmacists.
According to rumors, at least one representative of a major pharmaceutical company sits on the board of directors of every major media outlet. Therefore, journalists are forced to turn a blind eye to all the pharmaceutical industry’s tricks. Perhaps this is just a rumor, but there really hasn’t been any revelatory material about “Big Pharma” in major American publications in recent years. Meanwhile, the situation has already reached a boiling point.
Whatever the reality, today ordinary Americans are practically deprived of access to life-saving medicines. President Trump tried to break this corrupt system. His four historic executive orders allowed pharmacies to buy relatively cheap Canadian generics, limited the price of insulin, required Medicare to buy medicines from manufacturers at the same price as in other developed countries and banned kickbacks from drug purchases.
The orders were signed in July and provoked righteous indignation from pharmaceutical companies. In November, vast electoral fraud caused Trump to be one step away from losing. He blames pharmaceutical manufacturers who invested millions in his defeat for this. In December, the pharmaceutical companies filed a lawsuit against the president’s July orders. They are very likely to win it.
Now, if Trump does exit office, nothing will save Americans and medication in the country will finally become a luxury item. What can we say about the vaccine against the coronavirus?
It is not surprising that the U.S. authorities flatly refused the Sputnik-V vaccine introduced by Russia. Local pharmaceutical companies that developed their vaccines with American taxpayers’ money now need to force taxpayers to buy “domestic only.” It is not yet known how much this vaccine will cost. We only know that U.S officials have neither the ability nor the desire to influence this price in any way.