Monday, May 01, 2017

Your money or your life, part II: Take four of these a day, and swallow hard.

The hardest pill to swallow is what sick people,
health insurance customers, and taxpayers are getting
forced to pay for drug companies' greed.
Less than a year ago, I had a hissyfit in this space about the drug gougers Martin Shkreli and Heather Bresch, who charged outrageous prices and made outrageous profits by selling  life saving drugs at unconscionable markups.

Now comes news that Shkreli’s old company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, is at it again. This time it involves a formerly dollar-a-pill, four-times-a-day, or $1,460-a-year drug called Syprine. It’s a drug that saves sufferers of a rare malady called Wilson Disease from death by liver failure. New cost? Why, it’s only up to a mere $300,000 a year, a more than twenty times increase.

What’s even more upsetting, according to an article by former New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, published in Bloomberg View, is that the heartlessly greedy bastards who run the company are not only refusing to lower their markup, but also bribed a nonprofit association that supposedly represent sick patients with Wilson Disease to back off.

The tiny Wilson Disease Association, with revenue just a hair over $90,000 in 2014, was suddenly paid $100,000. according to Nocera. Whereupon, Valeant began declaring that it is in “partnership” with the Wilson Disease Association. The association protested, but its so-called protest did not including giving back the hundred grand. In my book makes them bought, whatever benefit they claim the $100,000 brought them.

The purpose of the bribe, according to Nocera’s article?
 For $100,000, Valeant purchased the right to say that it was working hand in glove with the Wilson Disease Association. As for the “conditions” it agreed to, consider this: Every time it uses its assistance programs to cover part or all of a patient’s co-pay, it is generating revenue that would be lost if the patient could no longer obtain the drug. 
Yes, Valeant has an “assistance” program that helps people who otherwise couldn’t afford to take the once buck-a-pill drug. But despite this assistance, it’s not only patients who suffer. It’s also you, if you pay taxes, or carry medical insurance with drug coverage. 

Nocera explains:
No matter what the patients’ out-of-pocket costs are, insurance companies and Medicare are still paying Valeant millions of dollars for a drug that just 11 years ago cost $1 a tablet. Which means that we’re all paying for Syprine, either as taxpayers or as insurance customers.  
Finally, though it is not something most of us think about, the need to rely on a drug so exorbitantly expensive takes a tremendous toll on patients and their families. They are always conscious that their insurance needs are costly to co-workers, especially if they work for a company that is self-insured.  
Brennan [a relative of a patient who needs Syprine] told me that some of his relatives are reluctant to go to the doctor fearing they could lose their jobs if escalating insurance costs hurt their employers. “It is a terrible feeling,” he said.  
[Former Wilson Disease Association president] Graper’s son who has the disease works in a small office that recently changed insurance plans. Under the new plan, everyone in the office now has to pay a $4,000 deductible. “How do you think it feels,” she told me, “to know that everyone in your office is paying for your Syprine?” 

If you haven't already done so, go here and read the whole horrifying article.

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