Editorial: Martin Shkreli personifies healthcare issues

Martin Shkreli | Via Martin Shkreli's Twitter profile

Martin Shkreli | Via Martin Shkreli's Twitter profile

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

There’s a reason why the United States spends more per capita on health care than any other developed nation in the world — and that reason is people like Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli.

Shkreli is involved in quite the controversy. His company recently acquired the drug Daraprim, the standard drug used for combatting toxoplasmosis — a life threatening infection to which AIDS patients and pregnant women are especially prone.

Before Shkreli’s company purchased Daraprim, it cost $13.50 a pill. Now, the drug costs $750 a pill, marking a 5,000 percent increase.

What followed was Shkreli’s quick promotion from CEO to most hated man in America. Nearly every news outlet, from Slate to The Washington Post, called him out for his “greed.”

Eventually, the public pressure forced Shkreli to lower the price, as he announced he would do yesterday — although he did not specify how much, exactly, he would lower the price.

Nonetheless, the issue goes well beyond Shkreli and Daraprim. The price of all modern pharmaceuticals and treatments is rising at an unprecedented rate, forcing many Americans to forgo the treatments they need.

As Shkreli himself pointed out in an interview with Bloomberg TV, “These days modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more” per year.

Of course this doesn’t justify Shkreli’s actions, but he’s right that his price raising is part of a trend.

According to a report by Elsevier, a drug product and pricing information provider, “out of a research sample of 4,421 drug groups, 222 drug groups increased in price by 100 percent or more” since 2004.

The surge in drug prices is one of the main reasons why we spend $8,745 per person on health care in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Compare that with Turkey’s expenditure of $984 per person on health care, which is the lowest among developed countries.

High costs equate to people being unable to receive the adequate care they need — according to PBS, that’s about 38 million Americans. Uncoincidentally, out of the 34 countries in the OECD, the United States has the eighth lowest average life expectancy at 78.7 years.

We cannot continue to allow pharmaceutical companies to exacerbate this trend. As a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation illustrates, more than 70 percent of Americans feel that drug costs are unreasonable and that drug companies put profits before people.

In order to protect the public good, our democracy needs to work to rein in prices set by big pharma.

Some of our representatives are already responding. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, for example, said of the Shkreli situation, “That is not the way the market is supposed to work. That is bad actors making a fortune off of people’s misfortune.”

In fact, Clinton has already laid out a plan to do so. According to USA Today, her plan will “allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs and cap out-of-pocket expenses for individuals with chronic health problems.”

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator and fellow Democratic presidential candidate, is currently sponsoring legislation that will do something similar, while also allowing consumers to import prescription drugs from Canada, which offers lower-cost drugs.

Either way, if we want to see tangible action and policy curbing the costs of pharmaceuticals, this will require continued pressure on the industry as a whole — and not only on Martin Shkreli.

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