The unethical greed of pharmaceutical companies has recently taken center stage in public discourse following the decision of vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli’s decision to jack up the price of a vital AIDS drug by 5,000% (which he has still failed to rescind), but the problem extends much further than the widely reviled “pharma bro.” Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has spearheaded congressional investigations into the matter, targeting Valeant Pharmaceuticals for their shameless use of similar price hikes.
J. Michael Pearson, CEO of Valeant, readily admits that his company is in it solely for profits, even though they deal in life-saving medications. “[If] products are sort of mispriced and there’s an opportunity, we will act appropriately in terms of doing what I assume our shareholders would like us to do” said Pearson in an interview with CNBC. “My primary responsibility is to Valeant shareholders. We can do anything we want to do. We will continue to make acquisitions, we will continue to move forward.”
Since Pearson took over stewardship of the company, “Valeant has acquired more than 100 drugs and seen their stock price rise more than 1,000 percent with Pearson at the helm…Already this year, they have increased the price of 56 of the drugs in its portfolio an average of 66 percent, highlighted by their recent acquisition, Zegerid, which they promptly raised 550 percent.” reports US UNCUT.
It puts into sharp perspective the questionable morality of the biotech industry as a whole. Jacking up the price of life-saving drugs, putting them out of reach of sick Americans and playing into the absurd games of health insurance companies are major ailments which cripple the American healthcare system, commodifying the lives of American citizens and exploiting their well-being for enormous profits.
The Financial Times gave this example of how drug price hikes can affect the lives of American citizens:
When Valeant Pharmaceuticals repeatedly raised the price of a drug for a rare condition known as Wilson’s disease, the amount that Berna Heyman had to pay out of her own pocket jumped from $510 a year in 2010 to more than $12,000 in 2014.
Despite being enrolled in a good health insurance plan, Ms Heyman could not afford it and was forced to switch from Syprine to a different drug. That medicine also prevents the potentially fatal build-up of copper in her vital organs but has left her with pain, numbness and leg cramps.
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. After former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke out against the biotech companies, their stock prices took a deep dive and many companies, including Valeant, are “rethinking their business models.” It is far beyond time we started valuing the health of our citizens over the profits of billionaires.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.