60 minutes brought yet again attention to the failure of our health care system using a drug used to combat the opioid epidemics as the catalyst for the piece. For that, we should commend them. Unfortunately, it was the standard mainstream media coverage that gave the Pharma company a pass by omission. In other words, they failed to provide context that showed Americans the predatory nature of our health care system compared to other countries.
Pharma should not be allowed to hold Americans, hostage, as they do with their drug pricing schemes to maximize their profits on sickness. It is immoral and should be illegal.
The gist of the story is typical. A company, in this case, Kaleo, repackaged an old cheap drug that is no longer patented and then inflated the price. They created a talking injector for the opioid overdose drug naloxone named Evzio. They then overpriced the drug at $575 for two doses. As the opioid crisis has gotten more severe, they inflated the price to $4000.
Leslie Stahl interviewed the Kaleo’s CEO, Spencer Williamson. As usual, these extortionists always find a plausible way to explain away their greed. This portion of the transcript of the interview is telling.
Lesley Stahl: You jack the price from the $575–
Spencer Williamson: Lesley, I–
Lesley Stahl: –to $4,000! $4,000!
Spencer Williamson: Lesley?
Lesley Stahl: What?
Spencer Williamson: I don’t love that word. We raised the price to improve access to this product.
Lesley Stahl: Okay, now that– explain that.
Spencer Williamson: Yeah, that–
Lesley Stahl: That’s hard to get your head around.
Spencer Williamson: The big misperception is that by raising the price of Evzio we reduce the access to this product. The exact opposite is true.
Lesley Stahl: More people are getting it at that price?
Spencer Williamson: Yeah, the numbers don’t lie. So less than 5,000 prescriptions were filled in the first 12 months. In the second 12 months, over 65,000 prescriptions were filled.
The CEO then gives a dubious story that in effect they sock it to the insurance companies that will pay. He claims Kaleo absorbs the cost for those people who have copays or no ability to pay, supposedly giving them the drug for free. It did not pass the smell test especially since Stahl previously spoke to an organization helping on the streets stating that even with donations the price was prohibitive. They must continue using the standard inexpensive vile/syringe method to deliver the medication.
The sad part of the presentation is that Stahl gave the CEO the opportunity to seem benevolent. He offered to lower the price below even the original $575. But he did so putting the onus on others.
Spencer Williamson: We want to reach out to all middlemen, all insurance companies to say, “We will lower this price to less than the original $575 if you will make sure that when a physician decides a patient is at risk, they can get it and they can afford it.”
Lesley Stahl: But all the insurance companies have to agree for you to get there.
Spencer Williamson: We will work with one insurance company at a time.
Lesley Stahl: Have you done it yet?
Spencer Williamson: We have started those conversations. But I’m announcing it on 60 Minutes that our hands are out to offer this price for less than $575 as long as patients won’t be blocked when they need it.
Leslie Stahl as a magazine program lost the opportunity to discuss how this type of extortion and pilfer is impossible in other countries because they have either real socialized medicine or some permutation thereof. There are “market” reasons why health care does not belong in the market portion of our economy. Every sensible government has already figured that out. Single-Payer Medicare for all is the only solution that makes sense and is the only mathematical solution to bring down cost.
I wrote a piece titled “Free market in healthcare kills Americans, and this is no hyperbole” that’s worth a read. It said the following.
Republicans and corporate Democrats lie to us about getting better and lower cost healthcare under the free market. This is false and all evidence, reality show otherwise.
Do not buy into the hype. America’s healthcare is currently a free market healthcare with mostly tepid government regulations. As Ali Velshi pointed out several times on MSNBC, no industrialized country in the world practices what we practice, market-based healthcare. And the reason is simple. Corporations have the fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits, not to heal the sick. If healing is the by-product that is a good thing. But make no mistake. Shareholders invest where they can make money passively.
Now, in certain areas, that does not matter because people have choices. When it comes to healthcare, Americans have no choice. They cannot choose when to get sick. When sickness hits, they cannot shop around for the best price. And unlike the lies from mostly Republicans, Americans never had the freedom to pick their doctor outright especially with HMOs and PPOs controlling who fall within their plan. It is a fallacy that the patients ever had freedom. They have always had limited choices.
It is clear that the mainstream media does not have the wherewithal to force the issue even as they have their mega platform to do so. It is on us to educate ourselves, our friends, and our families.