Sunday, October 23, 2016

A View FromThe Left -Expropriate the Drug Companies!-EpiPen Price Gouging

Workers Vanguard No. 1097
7 October 2016
Workers Vanguard No. 1097
7 October 2016
Expropriate the Drug Companies!-EpiPen Price Gouging

Keeping an EpiPen at hand is a matter of life and death for millions of children and adults in the U.S.—people who have severe allergies to bee stings or common foods like milk or peanuts. Available by prescription only, the auto-injectors deliver emergency doses of epinephrine (adrenaline) intended to stop anaphylactic reactions that can kill in minutes. Epinephrine has been available for a century and is dirt cheap. The pens themselves cost next to nothing to make. It stands to reason that lifesaving devices like these should be available everywhere and that a person who might die without one should not have to worry about paying. But in capitalist America, Mylan Pharmaceutical has steadily jacked up the price from about $100 when it bought the patent nine years ago to an obscene $600 for every two-pack sold today. Mylan does not actually manufacture the device itself. The San Jose Mercury News (1 October) reported that, after reverse engineering an EpiPen, two Silicon Valley engineers estimated that it would cost only $8.02 to make.

Small wonder, then, that a tidal wave of outrage has swept over the pharma parasite. Much of the anger has rightly been directed against Mylan’s cavalier CEO, Heather Bresch. The company chief has watched her personal salary rise even faster than the price of the EpiPen—Bresch draws down a cool $18 million a year. Bresch is the daughter of a West Virginia Democratic Senator; she got her first job at Mylan because of her father.

Called to testify before a Congressional oversight committee, she deadpanned: “Price and access exist in a balance, and we believe we have struck that balance.” Tell that to the people who have no health insurance or who cannot pay the astronomical out-of-pocket costs under their policies! They are left to choose between groceries, utilities or medicine for themselves and their families. Some gamble on keeping an EpiPen past the expiration date. Others resort to stocking prefilled syringes or vials of epinephrine as a substitute. Apart from the added risk of getting a dose wrong or puncturing a vein, the minutes lost in attempting to fashion a homemade injection while constricted breathing and lowered blood pressure set in could be fatal.

The pricing scandal has provoked much liberal hand-wringing and calls for more competition against Mylan’s near monopoly. “Bring a comparable product to market,” they say, or produce a generic version that is not quite as expensive. Such alternatives still allow Bresch and her investors to keep their profits while other companies get to muscle in on the action. Mylan’s own proposal is a “savings card” scheme in which the company may offer up to a 50 percent discount—leaving the cost at a still outrageous $300!
Price gouging by pharmaceutical companies is not new. Before EpiPen there was Daraprim, an anti-malarial drug commonly used nowadays to treat AIDS patients. Last year, “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, became the “most hated man in America” when he raised the price of the drug from $13.50 to $750 per pill overnight! Shkreli eventually resigned under pressure, only to be replaced by one of his close associates—who kept the price at $750.

It seems that when it comes to the most vital medicines, that’s when the capitalists raise the prices the most. In the late 1980s, with the AIDS epidemic raging, the Reagan administration finally threw a sop to HIV victims and allowed AZT, one of the first anti-retroviral medications, to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Patients were forced to fork over $10,000 a year for AZT treatment in a desperate attempt to stay alive. As we wrote in 1987: “The U.S. ‘health care’ system with its medicine for profit is a market in death. The pharmaceutical giants eye potential profits, while insurance vultures deny coverage to those judged ‘bad risks’ for AIDS.”

Under capitalism, the development and sale of medicine is driven by profit and medical care is rationed. The wealthy, who are always assured of the best health care, are concerned about the price of an EpiPen to the extent they have stock in Mylan. But for the working class and poor, who often struggle to get any care, the cost of medicine matters very deeply. We call for quality health care for all, free at the point of delivery, and for the expropriation of the parasitic drug companies, which are a menace to public health. Assuring such basic human needs requires socialist revolution to overthrow the whole capitalist profit system.

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