Viewpoint

Big Pharma just poked the wrong group: Moms

From John M. Scherr, a physician in Charlotte:

Big pharmaceutical companies may have finally crossed the line this time. The outrageous increase in the cost of the EpiPen – 32 percent this year alone – is certain to enrage and engage the country’s Number One voting bloc: moms.

When Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price of Daraprim, a drug used to treat an infection in HIV patients, from $13.50 to $750, there was outrage in the press followed by hearings in Congress. Although Turing promised to reduce the price of the drug, the company still hasn’t. And there is nothing – aside from public relations pressure – that can force Turing to keep its promise.

Many cancer-fighting drugs, among others, have also experienced astronomical price increases in the past few years. But these drugs are used by only a relatively small number of people, many of whom don’t have a big political voice.

Mylan Pharmaceuticals has slowly but steadily increased the price of its Epi-Pen 500 percent (from about $100 to $600) over the past six years, while, at the same time, vastly increasing sales through a very shrewd marketing campaign that has resulted in EpiPens being routinely stocked by schools, entertainment venues and cruise ships, among others. Are moms going to stop buying EpiPens for their children with severe allergies because of the price increase? No, of course not.

When Medicare Part D was added to Medicare coverage in 2003, lobbyists worked Congress relentlessly and succeeded in blocking the government’s ability to negotiate drug prices. There are no regulations currently in place in the United States limiting or controlling drug pricing. Companies price their medications as they please – as they feel the market will bear – and if maximizing profits is the name of every corporation’s game, why shouldn’t drug companies do the same?

One simple reason: patients are not able to shop for a cheaper alternative when their physician prescribes a medication. They are just stuck with whatever price the pharmaceutical company mandates.

The major increases in medical costs, and a big factor in insurance premium increases, is the skyrocketing costs of medications. These price increases need to be government regulated and controlled based on something other than corporate profits.

While the uproar today is over the EpiPen, the pharmaceutical industry price gouging is a far bigger, and more generalized, problem. But this time, there’s one big difference. Moms, whether rich or poor, black or white, Democrat or Republican, are united in disgust, because the Epi-Pen is a staple of 3.5 million lives, at a minimum, and many of those lives are children with moms who have spent their lives fighting for the rights of their allergic children.

I think the drug companies may have finally poked the tiger that is more politically vicious and vocal than any lobbyist. Maybe, just maybe, this groundswell of Mom Rage will spark real change.

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