The pharmaceutical industry has a massive public relations problem, and it knows it. Even our new, unapologetically pro-corporate president says drug companies are “getting away with murder.”Americans name prescription drug prices as a top concern, and a January poll showed only 9 percent of people in the US feel that pharmaceutical companies prioritize patients over profits.
Pharma’s critics have a lot of evidence to support their low opinion of the industry. Beyond high-profile scandals like the 500 percent increase in the cost of the life-saving anti-allergy EpiPen, drug prices overall rise each year far above the rate of inflation. Those prices fuel drug company profits and executive pay that are even higher than the amounts pulled in by other megacorporations. One example: Pfizer earns more than $17 million each day from a pneumonia vaccine that, until recently, was priced so high that millions of children around the world couldn’t receive it.
Those sky-high prices mean that as many as one in four Americans skip taking prescribed medicine doses because they cannot afford them, including one in five cancer patients. A US Senate investigation showed only about 2 percent of US Medicaid patients were being treated with a Hepatitis C cure, which is remarkably effective but priced at a massive $84,000 for a 12-week course. Globally, 10 million people per year die because they cannot afford the medicines they need.
These are people, not abstract statistics. At our law school clinic, we see people in our own US community who cannot afford to fill prescriptions for serious illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.
Last year, I spoke with a young South African mother, Tobeka Daki, who could not afford to have her breast cancer treated with the medicine trastuzumab, marketed as Herceptin. Although a year’s dose can be manufactured for as little as $176, the price in South Africa was marked up to $34,000, many…