March 2, 2017—If you’re in business, it’s bad news when the president of the United States asks a joint session of Congress on national TV to do something immediately about your “artificially high” prices.
That’s the situation Big Pharma is in today. President Trump’s jab about its price gouging in his Feb. 28 congressional address is just the latest he’s taken at the industry. The media is piling on, too. Every day there’s another headline about a drug company gaming the system to goose its profits or a patient forced to choose between obscenely expensive medicine and food, clothing, and shelter.
How has Big Pharma responded? By blaming others for making it set prices sky high. The 340B drug discount program is a favorite scapegoat. “The logic goes thusly: Since pharmaceutical companies must provide discounted medicines to 340B hospitals, they automatically raise prices on those drugs for everyone else to make up the difference,” write the directors of two cancer centers that depend on 340B savings in a new Morning Consult op-ed. “The problem? There are absolutely no data to back up the assertion. Even at a 20 to 50 percent discount to safety-net providers, drug makers often enjoy a sizeable profit. How much? We’ll never know because they guard that secret like the crown jewels.”
“We work for safety-net hospitals and it’s our mission to treat all patients who come through our doors,” write Dr. Mary Margaret Kemeny and Dr. Robert Chapman (the former is director of the Queens Cancer Center of Queens Hospital in Jamaica, N.Y.; the latter is director of the Josephine Ford Cancer Institute at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit). “Savings from the 340B program help us provide diagnosis, medications and surgery to uninsured and underinsured individuals who would certainly die without medical intervention….And yet the drug industry continues to try and gut the program.”
Big Pharma’s $100 million ad campaign to restore its battered image “could buy 1,639,344 vials of cisplatin 50mg treatments for breast, ovarian, bladder and testicular cancer,” the physicians note.
“Imagine how many lives that could save.”