by Charlotte Glover
October 21, 2004
As a well-informed, intelligent Democrat, I usually take Mr. Neckameyer and his endless finger pointing with a grain of salt, but this week his inaccuracies have gone too far. Having watched all three debates, there was no question in my mind that our President thinks we are all stupid when his response to importing drugs from Canada is that he "wants to make sure our drug supply is safe." That's an absolutely ridiculous statement considering that many of our drugs are manufactured around the world and imported into the US and Canada from the same factories. Thirteen major drug manufacturers have facilities in Ireland, for instance, because of advantageous tax breaks. I agree, depending upon Canada for our drug supply makes no sense, but neither does the paying horribly inflated prices for the exact same product simply because our government refuses to rein in an industry fueled by greed.
Half of the largest drug companies in the world are based in Europe, such as British GlaxoSmithKlein, Swiss Novartis and Roche, and French Aventis. All price their products much higher for the US market than for other countries because they can get away with it.
The drug industry is one of the three most profitable in the US, with "mining, crude oil production" and "commercial banking" being the other two. Americans now spend some $200 billion a year (with total worldwide sales estimated at $400 billion) on prescription drugs and prices are rising much faster than inflation. The allergy drug Claritin, for instance, has had its price raised thirteen times over the past five years as it gained in public usage and popularity. The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 in 2002 (35.9 billion) were more than the profits of the other 490 businesses put together (33.7 billion)!
These figures are public knowledge, taken from the annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and to stockholders. Also public is the salaries of the pharmaceutical CEO's. Did you take home $74, 890, 918 with another $76 million in stock options this year? That's what the CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb made in 2001. The Chairman of Wyeth made only $40 million that year with another $40 million in stock options. Guess he'll be asking for a raise soon.
Relatively little of the enormous profits are put into research and development, just 11-14% on average and most of the initial drug research in this country is done at publicly funded colleges and universities.
Far, far more money is spent on advertising. Read any magazine or watch any TV show and you'll know this is true. Do we really need to discuss the merits of Prozac or Viagra during the family hour? And of course, it must cost a lot to have the largest lobby in Washington with more than 500 people on the pharmaceutical payroll to make sure your representatives don't even think about reforming the system. Free market economics or outright exploitation? What do you think?
A person without insurance in the US can expect to pay $1500 a year for each drug he/she needs. Take four or five and that is a huge percentage of any average income. Perversely, prices are higher for those who need them most. People with HMO's or in the Veterans system get better pricing because those agencies buy in bulk and bargain for discounts. People without insurance pay the retail costs.
There is no question we have a health care crisis in this country. Parties can argue all they want about how to solve the problem, but I find it absolutely astonishing that President Bush refuses to acknowledge or address this issue except with his excessively complicated prescription drug cards for Medicare recipients that barely scratch the surface of the need. Over forty million Americans do not currently have health care coverage. Millions of children lack adequate care and most are from working families. It's telling that both the Bush and Murkowski administrations cut benefits for seniors and children while increasing tax breaks for wealthy corporations.
There will be no real reform in the drug industry until an informed and passionate public makes it happen. If you think you are getting your money's worth when you take your medicine, think again. Your hard earned dollars are lining the pockets of wealthy shareholders and CEO's, not paying for research and development of new drugs.
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