The devastating news broke late week that an Illinois drug company is ready to charge suffering muscular dystrophy patients $89,000 for a vital drug. The cost for the same drug in other markets: $1,000.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders roundly condemned the guilty company, Illinois-based Marathon Pharmaceuticals, shaming founder and CEO Jeffrey Aronin in an open letter co-authored by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.
“Marathon’s apparent abuse of government-granted exclusivity periods and incentives to sell what should be a widely available drug for $89,000 a year is unconscionable,” the letter reads. “Exorbitantly pricing potentially life-saving medications that should be widely available for a fraction of the price hinders patient access and drives up costs for the entire health care sector.”
Price gouging in the U.S. drug market first became a popular political issue two years ago when the original “Pharma Bro,” Martin Shkreli, jacked up the price of a drug used to treat HIV patients by 52 percent, from $13.50 to $750. More recently a pharmaceutical company raised the price of the lifesaving allergy treatment EpiPens six times its original price.
Marathon’s new profit junket involves the drug Deflazacort, which is approved to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that affects children as early as age four. Like Shkreli, Marathon Pharmaceuticals did no research and development on the drug. Instead, it obtained an exclusive license on a drug that has been available elsewhere for years.
Shkreli was arrested last December on investment fraud charges after Brooklyn prosecutors delivered an indictment claiming the “Pharma Bro” pilfered money from a biotech firm he started six years ago.
The ultimate twist in this type of pharmaceutical price gouging is that the patients themselves rarely bear the full cost — instead, everyone else does. Wonder why your healthcare has been getting so expensive lately? Your insurance company is bearing the cost burden for every single $86,000 prescription.
This behavior, The Atlantic has proffered, epitomizes the nation’s broken healthcare system:
“Medical research is extremely expensive. Except that most of the key innovation is still coming from academic medical centers, funded by taxpayers. Pharmaceutical companies then take that innovation and turn it into a marketable product.”
In other words, the veil that surrounds this type of behavior — which says that high prices encourage companies to spend money on research — is, in practice, bulls*&#.
B.s. or not, this problem isn’t going anywhere until it becomes a political priority. Preach, Democrats, preach. And don’t stop preaching until lawmakers do their job and fix this thing.