Too many Americans cannot live without prescription drugs. Whether needed to regulate blood sugar, cholesterol or another medical condition, pharmaceuticals have become a necessity. Some drugs are quite literally lifelines. Yet even while mass production, taxpayer-subsidized research and technology has made them less expensive to produce, the price of prescriptions are through the roof. Why?
Synthetic insulin, to control both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, has been around for decades. Today, more than 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes and nearly 1 in 4 diabetics rely on insulin. For those who are insulin-dependent, this medicine is far from a luxury. Without it, they die. Yet, between 2002 and 2013, the price of insulin has nearly tripled. Patients on fixed incomes are forced to decrease their dosage to save money, risking their lives in the process. Others are choosing between basic necessities, like food, to afford their life-saving medicine.
Insulin isn’t the only drug that is overpriced. Across the country, people are struggling as drug prices rise at double-digit rates, year to year.
The average Pennsylvanian takes between four and five brand name prescriptions regularly. Seniors are paying 20% more for their medications than their average income. In fact, one in five Pennsylvanians have chosen not to fill a prescription due to cost. Another one in six have skipped or reduced dosage to save money. Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians are worried about rising drug prices. Are you?
When life-saving drugs become unobtainable, who do they benefit?
For one, the pharmaceutical industry has become extremely profitable in the past few decades. In the first quarter of 2018, the top seven drug manufacturers made over $12 billion in profits, a 29% increase over just the previous year.
Many will say that pharmaceuticals invest so much in research and development and deserve to earn large profits. But in reality, U.S. taxpayers subsidize a significant portion of this work and even provide the companies with tax credits to supplement marketing costs. The companies then reap the profits from selling their products to U.S. and global markets.
Pharmaceutical companies do make significant investments … in lobbying Congress and state legislatures. In fact, drug lobbyists spend millions to influence policymakers each year. Their collective goal isn’t to ensure safer products or affordable pricing, but instead, to maximize corporate profits.
Meanwhile, around the world, the same exact drugs are sold at a fraction of the cost. Why?
In most countries, government plays a strong role in determining the price of the drugs. These nations view pharmaceuticals like utilities and regulate them accordingly because they are, like electricity or water, considered goods that consumers cannot live without.
Here in Pennsylvania, advocates are fighting to pass legislation that would make prescription drugs more affordable. Bills before the legislature would set limits on insurance copayments; establish a drug price task force; require drug corporations to justify price increases; and restructure cost of living requirements for PACE and PACENET recipients so they’re not penalized for having veteran status or receiving Social Security benefits.
America prides itself on being a free-market capitalist society; yet, like in many industries where health and life are at stake, it has failed us. Americans are paying almost six times more than Europeans for the same drugs because corporations have too much influence over our government and our government has too little influence over the industry.
The price of drugs is just one issue that the Health of the Valley Coalition will tackle at its upcoming public forum, Building Healthier Communities, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Degenstein Library in Sunbury. The program is open and free to the public and will offer a panel of experts, opportunities for discussion and action and healthy snacks.
Because health care issues are influenced through public policy, our elected officials hold our health in their hands. We have invited both incumbents and those seeking office to attend so that they might better understand the issues and hear the public’s concerns. Our hope is that they prioritize the health of the valley.
Our health is too important an issue. We cannot remain idle and silent.