Favorite

EpiPen lesson 

Congressional Republicans and Democrats staged a rousing display of rage against the CEO whose company gouged a fortune from families whose kids and sometimes grownups need the lifesaving properties of the drug EpiPen.

The national fury over the fleecing of sick children by Mylan N.V., which bought the rights to the allergy antidote and jacked up the price of a dose from $57 to $600, followed by the Mylan executive's rough treatment in Congress, caused some wonder. Could Washington at long last be spurred to do something about the chief driver of staggering health care inflation?

Don't be silly. Congress will do nothing of the sort. It and successive presidents have squandered every golden opportunity, including passage of two sweeping health-reform laws, the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. Like previous laws, they imposed cost-saving rules on providers and insurers, but to get anything enacted Congress gave the drug companies a pass.

Since 1995, premiums for health plans have risen four times faster than family earnings and five times faster than inflation, owing mostly to drug prices and especially those of lifesaving medicine where drug companies know the market will bear any price hike.

Government, in the persons of Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, actually assists the gouging by approving bigger prescriptions — a mandatory twin pack in the case of EpiPen — or, also in the case of EpiPen, requiring many schools to stock them for emergencies. EpiPens have a brief shelf life so they must constantly be replaced. Mylan got Congress to provide block grants to states to stock EpiPens in schools.

Insurance companies merely raise premiums to cover the soaring costs. When Congress passed Medicare coverage for drugs in 2004, it defeated attempts by a few Democrats, including East Arkansas's Marion Berry, to control drug prices. Congress even barred the government from negotiating discounts for mass usage or from acquiring drugs in Europe or Canada where prices are far lower.

As critical cancer drugs went on the market the past 15 years, prices soared. A new cancer drug may cost a patient or her insurer more than $100,000 a year. Employer and individual plans often don't cover them. Cancer drugs are a leading cause of bankruptcies.

You may remember the furor last year after the egomaniac Martin Shkreli's company bought rights to a drug for a parasitic infection that was deadly for babies and AIDS sufferers. Shkreli became a symbol of Big Pharma greed when he raised the price of the drug, which had been around for decades, from $13.50 to $750 for one tablet. Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, regretted not raising it even more because people had to buy it or probably die. There was some satisfaction when the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn had Shkreli arrested. But his arrest had nothing to do with exploiting sick people. He was charged with securities fraud because he used drug profits to pay off investors who had lost money with his hedge fund.

To understand why no one messes with pharmaceutical profits, except to complain occasionally, you only have to switch on any TV channel and watch commercials for an hour. You know who pays the freight for public discourse.

Congressmen scored some points against EpiPen's blithe chief saleswoman, CEO Heather Bresch, but in the end it was her day, not theirs. The super-polite Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked Bresch if she could confirm that her base annual salary was $18.9 million and that the EpiPen alone brought profits of "hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars a year" for her company. She replied sweetly, yes and yes.

While Mylan was jacking up EpiPen's price annually, Bresch's salary went from $2.4 million to $18.9 million. Mylan's income was spent on more than executive pay. It spent lavishly on ads to promote what it called "increased anaphylaxis awareness": persuading people they needed easy access to EpiPens to avert their allergic child's sudden death.

Maybe a new president and Congress will be different. Donald Trump sided with Democrats on letting Medicare and Medicaid negotiate with drug companies and buy drugs from countries with socialized medicine, but otherwise he says only that he'll solve the problem as soon as he repeals Obamacare and ends health insurance for 20 million people. Big Pharma flushed lots of money into presidential campaigns, Hillary Clinton's more than any other, but she has been more critical than others of the whopping prices of generic and new drugs. She laid out a long list of things she would do to control drug prices, including getting Congress to levy stiff fines on companies that raise prices unjustifiably and importing vital drugs from countries with high safety standards.

You read it here first. None of it will happen.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of EpiPen

  • The lesson of EpiPen

    September 27, 2016
    Ernest Dumas this weeks writes about the high-priced  EpiPen and it's symbolism for a Congress controlled by drug makers, as well as rising health care costs /more/
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • As long as people's arguments are off topic, I might as well run off on…

    • on May 26, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Silly me, Lyons not Lyon's, not that Lyons would care - he's too busy curtsying…

    • on May 26, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • And Al - not bad! But I base what I say on what Gene Lyon's…

    • on May 26, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation