Take action to rein in pharmaceuticals

By Robert Blake, M.D.
The Missourian, May 26, 2017

Pharmaceutical companies are among the most profitable companies in the world, and their executives are among the highest paid. In recent years, drug prices have markedly increased, rendering more and more Americans unable to afford essential medications.

Companies incur legitimate expenses for research and development of new drugs; however, their combined expenditures for lobbying, contributions to political campaigns, direct advertisements to consumers and promotional efforts, including free gifts, targeting physicians far exceed what they devote to research and development. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health and other federal sources provide significant funding for research of many drugs that become highly profitable for companies. Taxpayers subsidize the development of drugs that they later must pay high prices to obtain or cannot afford to buy.

The film, "Big Pharma – Market Failure," recently shown at the Columbia Public Library, documents the failure of the market to supply many medications at a reasonable price. The film emphasizes the devastating effects of escalating drug prices on small businesses that provide health insurance for employees.

We can take actions to address this serious problem.

• The federal law that prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies must be repealed. By negotiating prices, the Veterans Affairs  provides essential drugs to veterans at lower prices; Medicare should be allowed to do this.

• American consumers should be legally able to purchase medications from legitimate foreign sources. Prices of the same drugs are much lower in countries like Canada. The ensuing competition will reduce prices in the U.S.

• The public should have input into the pricing of drugs that were developed with taxpayer assistance.

• We need effective limitations on lobbying and campaign contributions from wealthy corporations, which unduly influence lawmakers to the benefit of the companies and the detriment of the public.

• Patent laws should be reformed to prevent companies from perpetuating monopolies on drugs by making trivial changes that confer no therapeutic advantage.

We should no longer passively submit to harmful practices of drug companies.

Dr. Robert Blake is a Columbia resident.