What Annual Percent Drug Price Increase Means You’re Not a Sociopath?

In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious that biotech vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli is a classic sociopath. From flashy, risky activity to an inability to lay low, combined with his penchant for harassing employees and online critics, not to mention multiple frauds and embezzlement, he nails the high-functioning sociopath stereotype to a T. Shkreli gained notoriety after massively jacking up the price of the drug Daraprim (used to treat toxoplasmosis), and then threatening to do so again for a drug used to treat Chagas disease.

That said, this article by Andrew Pollack raises an important point (boldface mine):

Most drug companies do not increase prices fiftyfold overnight, as Mr. Shkreli did.

But they often increase prices 10 percent or more a year, far faster than inflation. And those 10 percent increases — on drugs for common diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer — have a far bigger impact on health care spending than the 5,000 percent increase on Turing’s drug, Daraprim, which might be used by about 2,000 people a year facing possible brain damage from a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis.

“Because he played the part so well of the evil Wall Street hedge fund guy, Martin really drew attention away from the more serious issues with much bigger dollar impacts,” said John Rother, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, a Washington organization concerned with drug prices. Its members include medical societies, insurers, consumer groups and labor unions…

And his professed motivation — charging high prices to get money to spend on developing new drugs — is not all that different from that of other pharmaceutical companies.

Just a year ago, the public outrage was over Sovaldi, a new hepatitis C drug being sold by Gilead Sciences for $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a course of treatment. The drug was a true innovation, curing the disease in 12 weeks with few side effects. But so many people wanted treatment that the drug racked up sales of $10.3 billion in 2014, shattering the sales record for a first-year drug and straining the budgets of state Medicaid programs, private insurers, prisons and the Veterans Health Administration.

Now, Gilead has been largely shoved out of the news by Turing and other companies with similar practices, most notably Valeant Pharmaceuticals International.

So a 5000% percent increase is evil, but a ten percent increase per year isn’t? What is the rate of increase at which one is publicly declared to be a social pariah? Twenty percent? Fifty? At what point, do price increases become unjust?

There’s a more serious problem here, and, as Pollack notes, it has been deflected by Shkrelli.

This entry was posted in Basic Human Decency, Bidness, Ethics, Public Health. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What Annual Percent Drug Price Increase Means You’re Not a Sociopath?

  1. AndrewD says:

    Am I being cynical to suggest that Shkrelli has been set up to cover the sins of Big Pharma?

  2. Pranab says:

    Any update on Hillary Clinton’s promise to have legal measures to ascertain that this kind of thing does not happen? Or is it just political rhetoric?

  3. Kevskos says:

    Devils Advocate. Maybe his actions will bring more eyes to stories of Pharma gouging and it could end up being a positive.

  4. anthrosciguy says:

    If you’re old enough, like me, you’ll remember that after the OPEC and refinery industry created gas crisis in the early 70s, other groups followed their lead in how to raise prices dramatically with minimal consequences and outcry. For instance, the bread makers announced that prices were going to rise to as much as $1 a loaf by the end of the year (from around 25-30 cents then). By the end of the year, they’d only increased it to 50-75 cents or so. So they had everyone breathing a sigh of relief instead of calling for heads to roll.

    Sounds kinda like this pharma play, doesn’t it?

Comments are closed.