Drug Companies Pile Up $270 Billion In Annual Sales: Prescription Drug Prices Continue To Skyrocket

Prescription drug prices soar: Drug companies thrilled

Prescription drug prices in the U. S. continue to soar. Pharmaceutical companies deploy armies of lobbyists and lawyers, and pile up $270 billion in sales. Image: Chris Potter @ Flickr

Prescription drug prices soar in 2012! Drug company lobbyists thrilled.

Perhaps you have noticed; prescription drug prices continue to soar. Last year, generics were up 5.3%.

Brand name drug costs rose 25%.

You remember getting a 25% raise last year at work, don’t you? No? Well, if you want to make more money, you should become a drug company lobbyist. Or a drug company lawyer. Or a drug company CEO.

A story in the New York Times today ought to make your blood boil. But blood pressure medicine isn’t cheap. Not in America. So, try to remain calm while you read, because the pharmaceutical companies are sticking it to you and your representatives in Congress don’t care.

Okay, maybe Ted Cruz, U. S. Senator from Teapartistan, cares. He cares about protecting us from “socialized medicine!”

In the meantime, prescription drug companies are laughing all the way to the bank. (This is probably the same bank that got some “socialized bailout money” from the federal government during the 2008 economic crisis. But I digress.)

Let’s say your ten-year-old daughter needs a prescription for an Advair inhaler to treat asthma. How does the current system work? First, we start with the doctor. Ha, ha, I am such a comedian. No! We start with lobbyists. The drug companies spent $250 million last year to work over lawmakers like punching bags, hitting them repeatedly with fists filled with money.

And just look at the results!

High cost of asthma treatment leads to 3,300 unnecessary deaths.

According to the Times, asthma affects 40,000,000 Americans. Luckily, the condition is normally “well controlled with drugs.”

The problem is the cost of treatment. Pulmicort, a steroid inhaler, retails for $175 in the U. S. You could hop a boat and sail to Britain and purchase the same product for $20. Or, if you were British, the National Health Service would give you a free inhaler. The theory, which apparently only makes sense to socialists, is that giving people inhalers beats letting them get sick and end up in hospitals for expensive stays. Or, worse: end up in graveyards.

The Center for Disease Control, for example, estimates that asthma attacks in the United States lead to millions of preventable hospital visits annually. In addition, there are more than 3,300 deaths. Often this results because patients “skimped on medicines or did without.”

But you know what our nutty friends on the right say. If you try to control rocketing prescription drug prices, you’re for socialized medicine. What you really want is to unplug granny. No one on the nutty right seems to notice, however, if granny—or granny’s granddaughter—can’t afford her medicine to begin with and dies in her sleep.

Besides, the big pharmaceutical companies are people, too. (See: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.) And they would be feeling less than perky if the government stepped on their golden toes. No way the government should control prescription drug costs!

Drugs sales mean Big Money, an estimated $270 billion in 2012. So investing a little in lobbyist salaries and donating to politicians pays huge dividends in the end. And let’s be honest. We know what the U. S. Supreme Court has said. Corporations are people. So, it’s your seven-year-old with leukemia in one corner, and Baby Pfizer in his crib. You don’t want to deprive Baby Pfizer of his billions do you?

I didn’t think you did.

Hire more lawyers! Drive prescription drug prices up!

So, how do the pharmaceutical giants do it? How do they continue to driving keep prescription drug prices up? Singulair, for depression, up 78% in just five years. Plavix, for heart disease, up 88%. Crestor, for high cholesterol, up 91% during the same period.

Well, lawmakers have done their part by passing legislation forbidding patients to travel to Canada and bring back a carload or truckload of cheap medicines. That would be like running over granny with an eighteen wheeler. How about if grandpa ordered the drugs granny needed through a mail-order pharmacy? No way. That’s illegal, too.

(Maybe grandpa could purchase a shotgun and blast his way into a Rite-Aid Pharmacy. You know how much the right loves the Second Amendment!)

Anyway, not to worry! We live in the freest country in the world. Here we are free to pay out the ass for drugs that would be cost dramatically less in many “unfree” countries, like Germany, Japan or France.

Let’s say you have $250. You need Rhinocort Aqua, an allergy spray. That will get you two bottles in Ohio. Or you could try a little “drug tourism.” Fly to Romania and pick up fifty-one bottles at the same price. Grandma got gout? Here $250 would get her fifty-one Colcrys pills. Or granny could slap on a veil and take a camel ride to Saudi Arabia. There she could get 9,158 pills for her money.

Today, an Advair inhaler for young asthma sufferers costs $250 to $350 in the U. S. and lasts a month. A spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline told the Times that the price was “closely linked to this country’s model for delivery of care.”

Which, considering our screwed up health care system, is true.

Most Americans assume insurance will pay the better part of the tab. So the big drug makers know you don’t notice if they stick it to insurers. That is, not until the costs of health insurance keep rising and co-pays balloon.

How else do the drug companies manage to keep driving drug prices so high? One clever tactic is paying generic manufacturers not to make copies of popular drugs once patents run out. It’s policy known as “pay for delay.”

Lawyers help, too.

AstraZeneca, for instance, has spent millions in court recently, accusing small drug companies of patent infringement to stop them from marketing generic versions of Pulmicort. This has the small companies tied up in legal knots, probably for years.

In Germany, government regulators set drug wholesale and retail prices. But that would be terrible if we tried it here. Drug companies have feelings, remember, and if profits decline they might weep. In Japan regulations require that drug prices go down every two years. Well, we don’t want to try that here!

In Britain a popular steroid inhaler for asthma can be purchased over-the-counter for $15. Here the same device can be had only with a doctor’s prescription and typically costs ten or twenty times more.

Meanwhile the price of prescription drugs in this country keeps rising. In France, the cost of an Advair inhaler declined 10% in 2012. In Texas or Florida the price doubled in two years. In France, $250 would get you seven Advair inhalers.

In the USA it would get you one.

Good job, drug company lobbyists! Your granny must be very proud.