20 September, 2005

Today's Medicines Pay For Tomorrow's Cures

Or something like that.

I'm watching Little House On The Prairie with my Mom-In-Law. Since this is apparently TV geared toward the retired, they keep showing this commercial from Glaxo Smith Kline (drug company) about how expensive it is to find new drugs. The tagline tells us, in effect, that the high prices of medicines finance future cures.

Okay. Fine.

Why is that? I'm thinking about it, and I know that as a conservative it should make sense. Free market and all that. But I have bad allergies today, I can't breathe and my throat hurts. I really want to know why I should underwrite the R&D investments of pharmaceutical corporations. If I buy a drug for my sore throat, why should I have to pay a hefty surcharge so that GSK or their counterparts can cook up a cure for something else in their lab? As with everything else I compare it to books. There is no way in heck I'll pay $300 for a hardback book so that a publisher can spend that money looking for new and profitable writers. Yet that seems to be what GSK is saying in their commercials. I would think that grants and investments should be adequate funding for research. If you really want to see GSK develop nanocures, you can sink your investment capital into their corporation via the stock market. Forced investment in the form of high drug prices is criminal. Not only are you bound by necessity to pay the exorbitant cost, but you receive no return on your investment. Wouldn't you rather pay $75 for pills and invest the other $225 in the market? At least you'd have a better chance of seeing that money.

I'd be far more cooperative if I didn't know how much ballpoint pens, tote bags, calendars, and golf junkets cost. Every doctor's visit I've had ending in a name brand prescription has involved the doctor writing that scrip with a pen featuring the name of the drug. I feel like a character in some post-modern black comedy.

There's a lot of talk over at Sharon Cobb's and other TennCare watch sites about those dying because of TennCare cuts. While I abhor the senseless death of another human being, I would like to know why the primary villain in this scenario is Governor Bredesen, and by extension the people of Tennessee. Why is no one questioning the fact that insulin, a drug for which there is increasingly high demand, is so expensive in the first place? Why are there sit-ins in Bredesen's office, and not on the expansive lawns of pharmaceutical campuses? Why are the ordinary americans being asked to continually invest in the R&D of large drug companies without receiving a return on their investment? Governor Bredesen, for whom I did not vote because I found him to be a repeat liar, has made a decision to refuse to bankrupt his state for the continued interest of pharmaceutical corporations.

I know that I haven't thought through this process in its entirety. I know that there are good arguments to be made on all sides of this issue, and that I am writing out of a sense of frustration as much as anything else. Yet I would like to know why ailing Americans are being forced into the unwanted role of miniature venture capitalists whose only return on their investment is the temporary abatement of symptoms.


At 2:34 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger melusina said...

You make a good and valid point. And another question they should be asking: why do these drug companies only ask their American consumers to pay the cost of R&D?

At 4:00 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger John H said...

Katherine - you have hit on the most important and salient point about the TennCare travails. Almost completely hidden behind the salvos lobbed from Bredesen at Bonnyman and the justice center folks, and vice versa is that drug prices and the cost of drugs has driven TennCare into the current state, along with weak TennCare leadership during the Sundquist years (not talking about Manny Martins or Wendy Long here - they are amazing people).

One of the central tenets of TennCare in the design phase was that there would be a drug utilization review that would establish good practice and moniter drug prescriptions so that docs wouldn't get too promiscuous with scripts and so that docs would be expected to adhere to certain standards.

The start-up of TennCare was quite similiar to the mental picture of Rex Camino's landscaping cats..it was mammoth, logic resistant and all over the map. Lost along the way was the concept of drug utilization. The intention was there but the spine became weak. needless to say, rx companies weren't complaining and managed to keep the legislature from pushing utilization.

Now we are stuck with a one-size-fits-all 5 script policy that is just as asinine as the 'policy' that preceded it.

Drug companies and their apologists claim that they have to charge the prices they do to continue with their R & D and to keep cranking out their wonder pills.

Truth is, rx companies spend between 8 and 15% of their gross, and the rest goes to doctor junkets, freebie samples to docs and advertising.

I don't think Bredesen is as evil as some do, but I do think he waited to late to attack the real problem, and then tried to paint Bonnyman as the boogie man.

The real boogie man comes in a vial...


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