Wednesday, April 12, 2017

When it comes to health care a 'free market' kills Americans, and that's not hyperbole (egberto Willies) · Sunday, April 09, 2017, 10:53 pm

Republicans and corporate Democrats lie to us about getting better and lower cost health care under a free market. This is false: all evidence and reality show otherwise.

Do not buy into the hype. America's health care system currently operates under a free market system, with mostly tepid government regulations. As Ali Velshi pointed out several times on MSNBC, no industrialized country in the world practices what we practice: market-based health care. The reason is simple.

Corporations have the fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits, not to heal the sick. If healing is the byproduct, that’s a good thing. But make no mistake: shareholders invest where they can make money passively.

Now in certain areas that doesn’t matter, because people have choices. But when it comes to health care, Americans have no choice. They cannot choose when to get sick. When illness hits, they can’t shop around for the best price. And despite repeated lies from mostly Republicans, Americans never had the freedom to pick their doctor outright, especially with HMOs and PPOs controlling which health care providers fall within their plan. It is a fallacy that the patients ever had freedom. Their choices have always been limited.

Take in this recent headline from the Houston Chronicle: "Hepatitis can be beat but at a sky-high price." It’s better than the title given to the original piece first published in the Los Angeles Times: "Hepatitis B and C can be wiped out in the U.S. by 2030. Here’s how." The Houston Chronicle title reveals in fewer words the problem with our health care system. The following paragraphs are a blood boiler:

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a few new antiviral medications to treat hepatitis C in the last two years. These therapies can completely clear the virus from a patient’s body in as little as eight weeks with a single daily pill.

But they haven’t been widely used for a single reason: cost. The price for a full course of treatment can range from $55,000 to $150,000. As a result, government insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare have limited their use to patients with late-stage disease, and private insurers have imposed onerous copayments, paperwork and delays on patients and their doctors. The panel’s experts estimate that by 2015 only 7% to 14% of patients known to be infected with hepatitis C had started treatment with the new drugs.

These drugs are among the most expensive oral medications in history, and will probably remain so until 2029, when the exclusive patent rights on the first of these new medications expires.

It is important to note here that these drugs are not expensive because of manufacturing or development costs. They are expensive because Americans, through their elected politicians, allowed legalized theft of our society’s aggregate intellect, all for the benefit of the drug companies and their shareholders.

That’s why licensing one or more of the new-generation drugs is a key part of the panel’s plan.

A licensing deal could cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion, and the medications would then be used to treat government-insured patients whose access is now limited, including some 700,000 Medicaid beneficiaries, prison inmates and enrollees in the Indian Health Service.

Such an arrangement could save the United States well over $8 billion by 2030, the panel estimated. Far from disadvantaging the company that agrees to a deal, the move would broaden the reach of its product to patients who would not otherwise be treated, said Rutgers University Chancellor Dr. Brian L. Strom, who chaired the panel.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Strom said Tuesday. “For the public, it’s a massive win” that would drive down the number of infected Americans spreading the virus unwittingly. And for at least one of the five drugmakers who manufacture these costly medications (Gilead Sciences, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AbbVie and Janssen), striking a voluntary licensing agreement could return handsome dividends on its investment in research and development, he added.

In other words, taxpayers must pay extortion fees for drugs that were first invented with taxpayer-funded grants given to universities. A nefarious few then capitalized by creating companies, using the research to profit from government-funded research. A few years ago the Huffington Post laid out the pilfer affected with the Hepatitis drug in an article titled "Gilead’s Greed That Kills."

Untreated Hepatitis C can progress to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Every year, at least 700,000 people die from these complications — although HCV can be easily cured with just 12 weeks of medicines being sold by Gilead.

Gilead insists it is saving lives. It claims that it is a hero of innovation, bringing new wonder drugs to the market to cure Hepatitis C, an often-lethal disease that infects almost three million Americans and perhaps 80 million or more people worldwide. The company certainly could be a hero, but is the opposite today. Gilead is the main obstacle between tens of millions of very sick individuals and the medicine that could end their suffering and save their lives.

It is clear that Donald Trump and the right wing are not the only ones who can look at facts that are immediately evident and use them to articulate a completely different reality. That America continues to allow this to happen by willfully re-electing those that support the charlatans is what we must fight to change.

Gilead owns the monopoly patents on two life-saving Hepatitis C drugs, Solvadi and Harvoni. Gilead did not discover or develop these drugs, except for a brief and modest role at the end of the drug-approval process. Gilead bought these drugs from their discoverers and developers in 2011, after a decade-long discovery and development process, and just before the FDA licensed the drugs in 2013. It bought them with the knowledge that it would use its greed and lobbying power to rip off the American people and deprive people around the world of the benefits of these wonder drugs. ..

Gilead paid Pharmasett $11 billion because it knew very well that it was about to rip off the American people and quickly recoup this sum and much more. Gilead announced that it would use its newly acquired monopoly rights to charge a whopping $84,000 per treatment for Solvadi (and $96,000 for Harvoni, a slightly different formulation), even though the actual production costs are estimated to be somewhere around $68 - $136. Gilead’s markup over costs may be close to 1,000-to-1, probably a world record.

How did Gilead choose the price? It chose it for one reason: because it could get away with it. Washington allows this kind of abuse to occur, indeed insists upon it. Medicare is obliged — in one of the most absurd policies of our era — to accept whatever price a pharmaceutical company asks for its patent-protected medicines! The result is a level of drug prices that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the costs of production (including the R&D), or to the socially optimal drug pricing that would enable sick people to be cured of their illness.

For $300, someone in India can get the same $84,000 treatment mentioned above for hepatitis. Why?

The drug, marketed as Sovaldi by Gilead Sciences, costs about $84,000 for a 12-week regimen in the U.S. The generic version of the drug, sofosbuvir, costs $300 for the same treatment in India. That country refused to grant patent protection to Gilead for Sovaldi. The cost to produce the drug is in the range of $68 to $136.

So the reality is clear: free market machinations will kill (and have already killed) Americans because our fellow citizens could not afford the drugs that were developed through our tax dollars and then released to the free market. Some claim the fatal flaws in our health care system aren’t the failures of the free market, but failures in government intervention. The fact is that lobbying for government action is a part of the free market system. What many fail to understand or accept is the immorality of profit within the healthcare system that is directly responsible for the death of thousands, if not millions.

Call your politicians and tell them you want Medicare for all/single-payer healthcare. Additionally, demand that drug companies return profits from taxpayer-developed drugs to our national treasury.


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