When a diabetic walks into a drugstore, they could pay about $9 to fill their prescription for insulin. Then, American taxpayers could front the rest of the bill, which amounts to around $280. This scenario reveals a little-known fact: When drug prices skyrocket (for no other reason than capitalistic gain), it affects everyone. Diabetic ketoacidosis kills. This condition occurs when blood sugars get too high and the lack of insulin causes the body to shut down. Headlines these days are teeming with stories of people dying from the high cost of drugs, so why exactly is this happening?
The obscene price of drugs is characteristic of the United States, which has the highest cost for prescription drugs out of any other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development country. This comes as a byproduct of drug regulation processes. Take the drug Humira, for example. Humira treats conditions like arthritis and psoriasis. If you lived in Switzerland or the United Kingdom, the drug would cost $822 and $1,362, respectively. But purchasing that same exact product in the United States would cost a mind-boggling $2,669.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alone has the jurisdiction to determine whether a drug is safe and effective. It, however, does not pay heed to relative cost or whether a similar drug already exists in the market. In other countries, like Australia, this is not the case. Government agencies will take a far more involved role in regulating prices when pharmaceutical companies bring forth a drug proposal. They will consider the risks, benefits, novelty and everything in between. Then, a price will be negotiated. By contrast, the U.S. allows pharmaceutical companies to dictate their prices, and Medicare plans require all drugs to be covered regardless of their cost. In fact, it is against the law for Medicare to provide any commentary or advice on drug pricing. The process that companies undergo to sell drugs has so little oversight in America that pharmaceutical companies can line their pockets with no regard to the welfare of vulnerable populations.
With politicians running on empty promises of lower prices, there seems to be no end in sight. This leads me to believe that doctors might actually be the answer to saving the bleeding wallets of American patients. Physicians at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital led the charge as they vetoed the inclusion of Zaltrap, a colorectal cancer drug, into the hospital’s chargemaster because of its high cost and the lack of evidence that it performed better than preexisting drugs in the market. Maybe doctors can be the ones to prevent patients from personal bankruptcy when they hold companies accountable and refuse to prescribe unoriginal, overpriced medications. We expect a lot out of our doctors, and this request might just be another favor to add to their enormous laundry list. But, with the government wrapped up in their own agendas and the FDA’s inability to offer any bargaining power, doctors who are well-versed on calling out unjust drug practices might be our only hope.