Poster Boy: In Defense of Martin Shkreli, the useful tool

Understand that Martin is the poster boy for the corruptish practices in what was once a self proclaimed “ethical” industry.  In fact the pharmaceutical industry, Big Pharma in the United States, has always run close to ethical boundaries.  Going back to my graduation from medical school, who was there to take the senior class to an expense paid weekend in New York? Why none other than that “ethical” company Ely Lilly.  Some might have called this a conflict of interest for both the new docs and the “ethical” company but when you are a poor struggling senior medical student you are easily bribed.  To this day doctors are targets of drug companies often receiving various forms of payments for either their continued use of products or for listening to the spiels of drug salesmen.  In this relationship there is a very narrow line between legitimate product education and payment for services.

Throughout the next 48 years of my professional life  this so-called “ethical” industry did everything to protect and improve its position.  They have one of the strongest lobbys in D.C., having most of the congress on their payroll—facilitated by our Supreme Court.   In that time we have seen medicine change from an ostensibly doing good industry into a doing well industry.  Patients no longer are viewed as sick people but rather customers for various product lines.  Drugs are no longer developed to help patients but rather to improve company’s bottom lines and yes the sicker the patient the more we can charge, regardless of the cost of drug development.

Getting back to our stooge Shkreli, he has been the focus of our ire for his raising the prices of medications that his company has bought the rights to.  He  gleefully accepted the criticism and cynically shows no contrition.  But consider that his behavior  is standard for the drug industry; that Big Pharma has been gouging U.S. consumers for years; that his companies governing boards have approved of his actions (only removing him because of his alleged earlier criminal behavior).

Some examples of drug company gouging and misbehavior can be found by simply reviewing Medicynic’s archives but to make it easy with a quick googling I came up with these examples.

http://www.businessinsider.com/john-oliver-takes-down-prescription-drug-industry-2015-2

https://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/07/15/how-doctors-make-money-from-drug-companies

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/americans-pay-more-for-drugs-than-anyone-in-the-world_561bda8fe4b0e66ad4c89449

http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/09/investing/drug-ceo-daraprim-price/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/pharmaceutical-companies-buy-rivals-drugs-then-jack-up-the-prices-1430096431

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-23/how-marketing-turned-the-epipen-into-a-billion-dollar-business

http://www.wallstreetotc.com/serious-price-increase-for-generic-drugs/212724/

http://www.wallstreetotc.com/serious-price-increase-for-generic-drugs/212724/

Medicynical Note:  And it’s not just generics increasing in price.  New patented cancer drugs start their pricing now at $10,000/month and increase at rates often over 10% a year.  For example, Gleevac (imitinab), a drug for chronic myelogenous leukemia,  was released in 2000 at a price of around $40,000/year it’s now three times that price.  Drug  prices are based on whether there is an alternative and how sick the patient is, not the cost of development.  The fewer the options and the sicker the patient the higher the price.  And yes in the U.S., being the perfect fools, we pay much much more for drugs than anyplace else in the world.  Why?  Because Big Pharma has abused the system and induced  congress to ignore their abuses.

Instead of damning the clown Shkreli, we should be thanking him for bringing the price gouging of Pharma to our attention.  Will anything be done?  For good reason I’m a medicynic, so I don’t think our congress is capable of intervening.  They don’t bite the hands that feed them.  Sad, but that’s American Exceptionalism.

American Health Care Fail: Increased Death Rate Among Poor Whites Aged 45-54

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a disturbing study showing an unprecedented increase in the death rate among white citizens with the least education.  The details of the study were reviewed in the American Prospect.

The increased deaths were concentrated among those with the least education and resulted largely from drug and alcohol “poisonings,” suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. This midlife mortality reversal had no parallel in any other industrialized society or in other demographic groups in the United States.

Case and Deaton’s analysis, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also shows increased rates of illness, chronic pain, and disability among middle-aged whites. The findings have important implications for American politics and public policy, particularly for debates about economic inequality, public health, drug policy, disability insurance, and retirement income. The data also suggest why much of American politics may be taking on an increasingly harsh and desperate quality

The study points out that the U.S. is unique in that no other of the western industrialized nations is having a similar spike in mortality.  Read the entire American Prospect article for details.

Medicynical Note:  Hard to make a clever cynical comment about a study that focuses our attention on the failure of our culture to address it’s most basic needs.  We appear to have a problem not only with health care but with the very basis of our culture…..capitalism. 

Daraprim/Turing Isn’t Alone, Shkreli learned from others

Health care is delivered  by an industry more interested in financial return than access, quality of care, efficiency or value.  It has become a financial play.  As an industry it offers a customer base that is desperate; products often with limited to no competition; and a market that’s protected by patents and a disinterested (paid off) congress.

But Shkreli isn’t the only abusive drug company CEO.  Consider these:

Gal pointed to three examples: Jazz Pharmaceuticals’ drug Xyrem, Questcor’s Acthar and Mylan’s EpiPen.

And

The company reported revenue from Xyrem of $29 million in 2006, the first full year after its acquisition. Last year, Jazz posted Xyrem revenue of $778.6 million.

While the company said it’s expanded the number of patients the drug treats, the cost also increased an average of 29 percent a year from 2011 to 2015, according to data distributed this week by Evercore ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum.

And

H.P. Acthar Gel was initially approved in 1952, the year before Turing’s Daraprim, the subject of this week’s controversy. It treats infantile spasms and exacerbations of multiple sclerosis in adults, among other indications, and its price, as The New York Times reported in 2012, hopped from $1,650 to $23,000 a vial on a single day in 2007.

And

EpiPen, used in emergency treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions, is sold by Netherlands-based drugmaker Mylan. The price, according to data from Evercore ISI, increased 27 percent a year, on average, from 2011 to 2015, to more than $300 each dose.

Medicynical Note:  The only coherent explanation of what’s happening is that these robber barons have  cornered the market and are gouging for all they are worth…oh I mean all WE are worth.  Our health care non-system is uninterested in cost containment or for that matter delivering value because as the costs go up everyone’s share of the pie increases.

Except maybe for the doctors who are, ironically, the low men on the totem pole of the health care hierarchy.  It’s terrifying that the high men are hedge funders with only one interest, and it ain’t health care.


 

Health Care as A Market Play: (Daraprim, Shkerli) Nothing new here

People are outraged that a former hedge fund hack raised the price of a 62 year old drug that costs about a dollar to manufacture, from $13,50 to $750/pill.   He has now relented and will “decrease” the price–to an undisclosed cost.  Imagine that, arbitrarily pricing a drug to maximize profit?  Actually that is nothing new in the era of $100,000-$200,000/year for new drugs.

It’s difficult to conceive of a drug costing more than a luxury auto (a BMW or Mercedes for example)  or perhaps over a few years more than the cost of an average person’s home or even a multiple of the average yearly incomes of families.  But that’s what has happened in the U.S.  We have created a pricing monster that’s arbitrary and that’s  bankrupting individuals and the system.

Medicynical Note: This hedge fund refugee is not unique.  Drug company pricing is simply what they sense the market will bear.  Some of that is market economics but other aspects are the seriousness of the illness and the desperation of the patient. It’s your money or you life.

But at it’s heart we’re simple getting grifted by good ole capitalism.  Remember the goal of every capitalist no matter what they say about competition, is to eliminate it and have a monopoly.  That’s nirvana.   In pharmaceuticals this goal is facilitated by our patent law, aggressive often deceptive marketing practices and the need for safe drugs.  

Big Pharma has been pricing arbitrarily without regard for cost or value for years.  This clown simply said look here! the emperor has no clothes.  Gouge when you can. 

Our drug costs have predictably spiraled.  As to what would be a fair price for a drug costing $1 to manufacture and which has long established indications?  I’d say under $5.   But don’t bet on that!

 

Drug Companies: It IS the money, stupid

In case you were wondering,  drug companies business plans are designed to separate you from your money—not assure access to medications; provide value or promote good health.  In the case of medicine in the 21st century in the U.S. it truly is your money or your life.  This was again graphically illustrated by Turing Pharmaceuticals when it  raised the cost of a 62 year old medication from $13.50/ pill (over priced at that) to $750/pill. 

The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Turing’s price increase is not an isolated example. While most of the attention on pharmaceutical prices has been on new drugs for diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and high cholesterol, there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment.

And

While some price increases have been caused by shortages, others have resulted from a business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced “specialty drugs.”

Medicynical Note:  Kind of pathetic but that’s what happens when companies use their leverage on the sick and dying. 

It leads me to conclude that “medical ethics” and what was once known as the “ethical pharmaceutical industry” no longer exist.  It’s really all about money.

Drug costs

Health Affairs has some ideas regarding drug costs. 

A few jaw-dropping facts quickly illustrate the pattern of rising drug costs. The average annual cost of cancer drugs increased from roughly $10,000 before 2000 to over $100,000 by 2012, according to a recent study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Several breakthrough specialty medications and orphan drugs recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have subsequently entered the pharmaceutical market with hefty price tags. Consider Biogen Idec’s multiple sclerosis drug, Tecfidera, which costs $54,900 per patient per year; hepatitis C cures from Gilead Sciences, with a sticker price of $84,000 per patient; and Orkambi, a cystic fibrosis drug from Vertex Pharmaceuticals approved this month, priced at a whopping $259,000 per year.

And

generic drug prices have at least managed to raise eyebrows. In 222 generic drug groups, prices increased by 100 percent or more between 2013 and 2014, according to Forbes. As generic drugs have long provided payers some respite from other more expensive products and services, rising prices in generics like Mylan NV’s albuterol sulfate—which increased about 4,000 percent from 2013 to 2014—are well worth the concerns.

And consider this as well.

Pharmaceutical companies and free market proponents were unhappy at the Obama administration’s recent proposal to grant Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices. A Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to accept such meddling in private markets, and a lobbying firm in Washington called the proposal “dead on arrival.”

Read the rest of the article for more facts and thoughts on amelioration….or just read some of our old posts

Medicynical Note:  And why anyone in their right mind would oppose Medicare negotiating drug prices is anybody’s guess—my guess is that campaign support (money) from drug companies (in other circles known as bribes) carry the day. 

What’s going on is not sustainable and something has to give.  Drug Companies want everyone but them to literally give $$$$.  Their business is not health care but rather maximizing revenue.  Patient outcomes, access, bankruptcy, sustainability is not their department.  

It IS the money stupid!

Decisions in health care (Electronic Medical Records): It’s the money stupid!

Health affairs blog notes that the decision to implement and fund the electronic medical record was based on faulty research that indicated it would save money.   The premise was wrong.  And the the flaw in the research, in part, was that the research and the decision to fund was influenced by lobbyists paid by vendors of such systems—greasing the wheels so to speak.  This is highly legal, given the Supreme Court’s granting of citizenship to corporations and moneyed interests, allowing them unlimited “access” (ability to bribe)   to whichever political hack who would support their plans.

Long before Congress created the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, giving $32 billion to health care providers to transfer to Electronic Health Records (EHR) vendors, plans for that windfall were created by an by Health Information Technology (HIT) vendors, HIT enthusiasts, and friendly politicians (like Newt Gingrich).

The plans included an enormous lobbying campaign. Congress responded obediently. Most commentators focus on that $32 billion for the HITECH Act’s incentives and subsidies. But that was only seed money. The real dollars are the trillions providers spent and will spend on the technology and the implementation process.

Much of the economic justification for the spending on HIT was based on a now-debunked RAND study that promised up to a $100 billion in annual savings. Recently, however, in a remarkable act of ethics and honesty, RAND disclosed its previous study’s problems, dubious data, and weak research design, and that the research was subsidized by two of the larger HIT vendors (Cerner and GE).

Interestingly, in contrast, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), both of which touted the first RAND study, have not issued reassessments of their happy predictions but continue to promote HIT’s cost savings and improved patient safety. While HIT should be and absolutely is far better than paper records, more than 30,000 studies had already failed to support such bold assertions of powerful improvements in health and efficiency. Moreover, the research designs of all but a tiny proportion of those studies were too weak to yield trustworthy conclusions. And the best of them showed few if any benefits. This comes to the heart of our concern here: the use of weak research in support of less-than-effective health policies and medical treatments.

Medicynical Note:  And yes, there is no shortage of political hacks in our congress.

Skim milk masquerading as cream, again.  Is this any way to run a government?