The Oregonian, January 02, 2016
by Guest Columnist Sameuel Metz, MD
There are convincing reasons why Oregon should embrace the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but a compelling reason for opposition is protection of our health care. The trade partnership treats prescription medications as commodities, selling at the highest price the market will bear. This promotes businesses that sell medications, but it's a poor way to get lifesaving drugs to Oregonians who need them.
Unaffordable medications are not a trivial problem. Based on national estimates, over 10 Oregonians die each week of treatable conditions because they cannot pay for treatment, a mode of death unknown in other developed countries. Last year, prices for specialty drugs rose by 19 percent. The most dramatic example was the 5,000 percent increase for an essential medication marketed by Turing Pharmaceuticals. The company pledged to reduce that increase. So far, the $750 price per pill to patients has not changed.
Turing is not alone in maximizing revenue on branded drugs. Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, and Eli Lilly raised drug prices by as much as 22 percent, 25 percent and 65 percent, respectively; Pfizer's highest increase was 115 percent. These price increases were not for new drugs with unrecovered development costs; these were older drugs enjoying high demand.
Can we justify these increases on free market principles? No. Simple economics do not apply to critical medications: When prices go up, need stays the same. Consequently, patients must choose to either pay the high market price, or to pay a still higher personal price: dying of their disease.