It’s been over three years since my husband had his last infusion – biological medications used to keep the disease he was diagnosed with nearly three decades earlier in remission. He has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. While many people think arthritis is just some achy joints, it’s far more than that – although the pain I see my husband experience on a daily basis is not anything that should be dismissed. The biologics (considered specialty pharmaceuticals) he received in infusions suppressed his immune system which prevented his body from being at a constant war against itself. The cost of those infusions are around $20,000 a pop and he normally would have around 10 per year. So, his bill for just those infusions (without insurance adjustments and all the complicated fee schedules that now IS our current state of healthcare) was about $200,000 a year.
Due to changes in employment, we have found ourselves uninsured for most of the last three years. We attempted to take out insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but our monthly premiums were far more expensive than we could afford. Truthfully, they are nearly the same cost as housing. Housing! I won’t bash the ACA as I know it has been tremendously helpful for some – but I’m firmly in the camp that it simply wasn’t enough.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act has been a BABY STEP in the right direction. The protections within the act were extremely needed and I’m thankful that as we approach a time when we will be insured once again, my husband won’t be denied coverage. That’s a huge win. It was something we would be facing now after experiencing a lapse in coverage. So, that’s one less worry. But, there is yet so much more to do.
Scrolling through my news feed today I saw a meme that caught my eye and made my blood boil. Posted by Physicians for a National Health Program, the image of bio-tech company Gilead’s CEO John Martin was included with his compensation.
When people are angry at big pharma, this is the guy. Well, one of the guys. There are many of his ilk, sitting at the head of pharmaceutical companies raking in the cash. Of course, that cash is pulled into a system that is now set up to exploit one of the most primal instincts of human survival – the will to keep yourself alive and physically comfortable.
Take, for instance, Gilead’s specialty pharmaceutical drug sofosbuvir.
Sofosbuvir also is an excellent example of both the benefit and the challenge of specialty medications. On one hand, this agent offers up to a 95% response rate as part of an interferon-free treatment regimen for hepatitis C. Generally speaking, it is more effective and better tolerated than alternative treatments. Unfortunately, the current per pill cost—$1,000—results in an $84,000 treatment course, creating barriers to therapy for many. Patients, providers, and payors alike have expressed outrage, and the debate has even drawn the attention of the US Congress. Despite these concerns, sofosbuvir rapidly has become a top seller in the United States.
Yep, $84,000 a year to treat people with hepatitis C, a disease that can be deadly if chronic and unmanaged.
First, let me say, I would be a fool not to applaud the scientific innovation that takes place in the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve witnessed first hand the “oil can” effect those drugs have had on my “tin man” husband. These companies do absolutely amazing things, finding treatments and cures for debilitating and deadly diseases.
But. . .
When lives are on the line, and often lost, because the price you’re charging for the cure or treatment is far beyond what an average individual could even consider paying – meanwhile you’re walking way with compensation that comes out to nearly a $1 million per day – something is terribly, terribly wrong with this picture.
Profits should never be built upon the backs of individuals’ health. Our bodies, and our will to live, should not be exploited. Even more so, human beings should not be dying because they couldn’t afford the cure.
Sorry ma’am, we might have been able to save your husband but we see you don’t have the ability to pay us $200,000 for one year of those treatments. The head of the drug company, who happens to already be a billionaire, still wants to charge you the cost of a house for your yearly treatment plan. Have a nice day.
Lovely. Just lovely.
Russell J. Andrews, author of the book, “Too Big to Succeed: Profiteering in American Medicine” says:
In essence, we have transformed health care in the U.S. into an industry whose goal is to be profitable, and the health of the patient is not really in the equation. Imagine if such a transformation from a societal good into a profit-making industry occurred in public safety (police and fire), clean air and water or basic education?
Yet ultimately, the only way true health care reform will happen here is if the voting public in the U.S. rejects the unsustainable course of for-profit medicine. We must lobby our elected representatives in Congress and locally, demanding change. The public must exercise their democratic duty to make their views known – through emails, letters and the ballot box. We don’t just owe it to ourselves to do something – our lives depend on us doing so.
The problem with our healthcare system IS big money. From big pharma to big insurance to for-profit hospitals, it’s all about making record profits while denying care. It’s big profits found in an industry that should not be based on profit at all. But, the fight is on. Because John Martin and his ilk aren’t going to easily give up the cash cow they have sustained by tapping into humanity’s desperation to survive when staring into the eyes of a beast.
The human experience is peppered with pain and suffering. For some, that misery comes to them in the form of illness or disability. When humanity has progressed to the point that we are able to cure and comfort the sick with science, but the price tag is only fitting for the rich (so the rich stay rich), it is a symptom of a much larger abscess brought about through one very specific source of moral decay: greed.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a pill for that. So, vote. Vote like your life depends on it.
Because it does.
Featured image via Facebook