This blog is dedicated to the memory of David Weintraub, who took on insidious astroturfers and won.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Are drug companies causing health inequalities due to pricing?

Medicines of all sorts have been around throughout human history to help man survive; herbs and spices to cure ailments big or small. Then along came scientists who experimented and trialled out a medley of concoctions to attempt to cure the big bad diseases.

I am sure some of these great scientists' aims were to save a life rather than to make money out of their discoveries! Think of Banting and Best who discovered insulin in 1921-where would those of us with diabetes be without insulin now? Antibiotic discovery, immunisations and so many other medicines have transformed and saved countless lives globally.

Mass manufacturing of drugs, though, did not come along until the 1800`s. Everyone knows aspirin, for example; the company Bayer used clever advertising to sell it to the public! Another drug company Pfizer which began way back in 1849 is now worth 49 billion dollars!

So where did the money making side of drugs originate from? Well, if you or I needed a cure, we`d go out of our way to find anything we believed in or were cajoled into believing would work, right? Picture quack potions sold off a back of a horse and cart with claims of miracle cures, wrapped up in something sinister like arsenic for goodness sake. You`d pay whatever you could afford!

     image: The Welcome Library.

And dare I say, perhaps modern medicinal product advertising goes hand in hand with the earlier methods of deception? The picture above is from early 20th Century England claiming to cure all with one product! It's Scott`s Emulsion-glorified cod liver oil to you and me! Did they knowingly mislead the public? Perhaps, and like today, drug companies would want you to spend on the most expensive brand, yes? So making money out of medicines is nothing new.

The question of whether lifesaving medicines are overpriced has come to a boiling point and especially in the U.S.. There have been many calls to cut the pricing of prescription drugs. Take a look at the cost of Epipen for one, the lifesaving drug for those who could suffer anaphylactic shock. Depending on where you live and what health insurance you have, many people are being forced to cough up additional money from their own income. And who are the most affected by these prices? They are the most vulnerable in society who can least afford it.

What would you do if you knew there was a drug that could save your life, but it was way too expensive to get hold of? This is the sad reality of today. People are now so reliant on doctor prescribed drugs, the figures are staggering.

Approximately 60% of Americans and half of the UK population take prescribed medicines.


And recent research found that people went without their medicines because they could not afford them, thus impacting further on health. This is a worrying trend.

I looked at UK usage too. However, the National Health Service has exemptions for prescriptions for some of those suffering chronic illness such as diabetics. The public do have to pay a national health insurance but it is nothing in comparison to Americans' fees! The typical cost of just one prescribed drug costs in England approximately $9 U.S. dollars, nothing too demanding compared to across the pond.

There are some inequities in England when expensive drugs are restricted due to cost. It can also be dependent on where you live, a form of post code lottery!

The new hepatitis C cure hit the headlines for the wrong reason due to government intervention.

It's not just hepatitis C. Complaints are growing to make cancer drugs more widely available.

 So drug companies have the right to charge so much? Are they there to aid patients or in it for pure profit? Should they be held responsible for causing health inequalities due to overpricing?

Well, there certainly seem to be a lot of lawsuits and fines levied against them.

Is it too much to expect the immediate implementing of reasonable pricing? Who holds the bargaining power of these huge organisations?

Some of them argue that they are not overcharging but provide competitive prices; try telling that to the person footing the bill!

In-between people such as pharmacies dispensing medicines are trying to get the costs reduced.

Okay, so I did do a lot of background research on this and I wanted to see which drug companies were faring best and worst in terms of accessibility and affordability.

GlaxoSmithKline came out on top of the rankings, showing some promising ways in which to facilitate better access to medicines in countries with high poverty levels by capping prices.

       Sir Andrew Witty, CEO.

 So it`s not all doom and gloom as the press makes it out to be? I am not so sure.

We all like to see solutions to problems evolve quickly into action, don`t we. The debates will linger on until there is complete health equality.

So what is the solution? Well, I know you will all have your viewpoints on this.

Here are some ideas from various medical based places.


So governments must be key players in reducing drug costs.


And from the World health Organisation:

Ah, yes indeed, the transparency of drug companies!

The Lancet article recommends governments assure money to cover at least the minimum cost of essential drugs.

 Just what will it take to stop the health inequalities? Do we need more competition from up and coming drug companies, who will charge less, is that the answer? Or will governments change course and decide to spend more on health care instead of war?

 Does the totality of humanity matter to any of these players in the pharmaceutical myriad?