Richard Davis: When it comes to lowering drug prices, the fat cats always win

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There has been talk in Congress about lowering prescription drug prices. Politicians have never been known for pushing legislation proactively and the drug pricing issue is a good example.

Americans have been suffering for years because of the obscene and immoral escalation of prescription drug prices. People die every day as a direct result of their inability to afford life-saving drugs such as insulin. Even more people suffer in silence because they either can't afford medications or they cut dosages. Their hearts and lungs deteriorate at a rate that does not happen to people who suffer from such conditions as heart failure and lung disease and who can afford the medications that keep their disease in check or slow its progression.

Politicians are finally listening to those suffering from the high price of drugs, but I doubt anything of consequence will change to lower drug prices. The primary reason that politicians will be powerless to lower drug prices has to do with a number of factors that are not at all complicated.

This country worships the free market and the market for prescription pharmaceutical products epitomizes the American entrepreneurial spirit.

Make a product and charge the highest price you can get away with and the public be damned, as long as the market exists for your product.

That kind of thinking might work for televisions and cars because some of the competitive checks and balances are at play in that kind of free market system.

But when it comes to prescription drug pricing the free market is really not the free market, because when competition does exist it has almost no effect on pricing. The drug companies' "profit above all else" code of immorality is at play because they know that their product is being sold to an audience that usually needs it on a daily basis to either survive or maintain health.

Prescription drugs should not be allowed to be sold under the same rules as televisions and cars, yet politicians have made little effort to treat the sale of prescription drugs differently than other commodities. When they have tried to do so, the pharmaceutical industry has used its financial and political clout to lobby successfully to stop most efforts to lower their profits.

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According to a recent issue of The Hill, "Lowering drug prices is one of House Democrats' top priorities; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) frequently touts drug prices as at the top of the agenda, along with infrastructure and fighting the influence of money in politics."

They go on to note that, "The smaller-scale measures that Democrats will consider next week are part of a strategy to start with measures that are more likely to be bipartisan and get across the finish line before later moving on to bigger-ticket items like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Still, any drug pricing measures always face a tough road, given the contentious nature of the issue and drug industry lobbying."

Congress is tinkering around the edges because very few of its members have the will to push legislation that would substantively change or control the pricing structure of prescription drugs in this country.

Too many politicians rely on pharmaceutical company lobbying money to make sure they are re-elected and the relationship between Congress and the drug industry is about as cozy as it gets. The revolving door between government and big pharma is always open for two-way traffic.

Politicians can express outrage at hearings about drug pricing, but most Americans are not stupid enough to fall for that kind of posturing.

They want action as they sit in their living rooms struggling to breathe because they can't afford to take their heart medication. They would prefer not to wake up from surgery after a limb amputation that could have been prevented if they had been able to afford their insulin over the past 10 years.

There will be hearings and then, a few months later, nothing will happen and it will just be business as usual. That is the American way when it comes to protecting the profits of the fat cats of industry.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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