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Today, I am going to keep going after drug companies. I have worked with their representatives and know that they make valuable products but the leadership of these companies is putting profits and high prices ahead of the public interest.
Pharmaceutical companies enjoy the image of being one of the most powerful interest groups in America. They spend millions on campaign contributions, lavish gifts and consulting contracts on doctors and donate strategically to key non profit, disease-related organizations that represent patients who then join them in lobbying for greater access to their drugs. None of this is illegal but it is had the impact of building political power that has thwarted grassroots support to push for more responsible prices or for government negotiated drug prices in Medicare for example.
However, Mylan pharmaceuticals, which produces the epi-pen which is used to stem an acute allergic reaction, often in children, was blindsided by the power of parents and social media this month about their price increases for this product. With no competition after the FDA refused to approve a competitor, they had raised the price to $600 for a pack of two and with high deductible insurance plans becoming more common, many parents were having to pay the whole cost. Some members of Congress with children needing the product also became more vocal. Parents took to social media with online petitions and quickly put the company on the defensive so much that it immediately said it would offer a generic alternative at half the price. That just makes you realize they could do that while still making a good profit.
The epi-pen story is a metaphor for everything wrong with the pharmaceutical industry. It should be possible in America to earn a good profit while also serving the public. These companies have forgotten that. They have been given almost free rein to charge whatever they want, whatever the market will bear, to literally price gouge the public with their greed. Then, they use the excess profits to shower money on Congress, doctors and interest groups. Drug companies like to make arguments for high prices, saying they need extra money for research and development costs, but basically they now just keep raising prices and try to force insurers and government programs to pay. They claim that the patients won’t get hurt since they only have co-pays. They offer patient assistance programs to cover those who can’t afford their products.
The parents who started the rebellion have shown us how to take on these companies. Despite all their sophisticated political planning most drug company executives are tone deaf to understand how the public resents their greed. Bad public relations is not good business. Bad public relations spilling over into the political arena is not just a political problem. Drug companies are continually having to reverse course when they realize their bad public relations is hurting their confidence with investors and driving down their stock prices. They are their own worst enemies.
Using social media and people and consumer power is what we all need to keep doing to counterbalance the enormous power of the drug companies. It is a grassroots remedy to counter their unwillingness to balance their profits and the public service their products provide. The other is to question and vote against those candidates for office who refuse to hold these companies accountable.