A Larger Problem

By Stephanye R. Clarke

Last week one of my Facebook friends posted, “I have seen the face of Satan, and he is @Martin Shkreli.” I’m inclined to agree—and in case you hadn’t heard of him, he’s the CEO who bought rights to a drug and then hiked the price up by some 4000%. He found out quickly that his arrogance and alleged good intentions (I saw in an interview his claim to use some of the profits to discover new drugs for the treatment of other illnesses) were simply not enough to save him from a very public (and might I say well-deserved) scathing.

I was disgusted after learning about the price hike and (like many) I wondered immediately how PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS) who depended on this drug would be able to afford it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how he could be so smug in the face of all of the lives his actions would impact. And even now—with the promise of a price rollback (with no actual number or timeline)—I have to wonder whether or not the new price will result in increased insurance premiums. Is there a way to win?

I don’t defend one thing Shkreli did, but I do wonder what happened to make this case stand out—it happens all the time! Let’s face it—Shkreli isn’t the only culprit and neither is his company. In an article from last week, the Washington Post declared,

“High drug prices occur for a variety of reasons, and a high price isn’t inherently a bad price. Just as we are willing to pay more for products that are higher quality in other parts of life, a medicine that saves a life is valuable. We want companies to develop cures.

The trouble is this: right now, we can’t tell why prices are high, or even if they are high. New drugs that come on the market are often expensive because, companies say, they need to recover the cost of the innovation that led to the breakthrough. When monopolies exist, either because a new drug is the first to treat an illness or an old drug just doesn’t have competitors, drug prices may also be high. The problem is that we have created a system where it’s pretty hard to draw a hard line between the prices that are high for a good reason and the ones that are not.”

I agree that a medicine that saves lives is valuable—though the value of that medicine should not be measured in profits picked from the pockets of the sick. Health care—and in this case, a life-saving pharmaceutical—is currently a business, and, despite great strides through reform, quality care is a privilege.

Until we shift the paradigm and health care is treated like a public good and a human right, we should expect to see more profiteers like Martin Shkreli capitalize on the desperation of the ill.

Related Posts:

Universal Health Care Foundation:

Big Pharma: Dangerous Practices Don’t End with Martin Shkreli

Big Pharma: Life Saver or Criminal Enterprise?

Washington Post:

The drug industry wants us to think Martin Shkreli is a rogue CEO. He isn’t.

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