Big Pharma and Obscene Profits

pharma medicine

Obscenely high prices for prescription medicine create billions of dollars of profit for giant pharmaceutical companies to the financial detriment for those whose health depend on their products. Reforming that system in lowering prescription drug prices has become an ongoing contest of money and influence prevailing over the lives and health of those who simply cannot afford the high costs.

To reform this overly abusive and dangerous situation, activists from Progressive Maryland held a noon time rally at the U.S. Botanical Gardens near the Capitol today calling on the Secretary of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra to meet with the “Make Meds Affordable Campaign” and to hear first-hand from those affected by unaffordable prescription medicines.

While the ability to help in lowering drug prices was included in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, activists are asking for more and immediate relief through Secretary Becerra’s intervention by urging him to utilize his executive action powers in bringing relief in overcoming high prices for prescription medication to the American public.

Rallying in the plaza outside the Department of Health and Human Services Hubert H. Humphrey Building, a lively and robust mobilization was held with a New Orleans jazz band and several speakers bearing testimony to their personal ordeals in dealing with the high costs in treating their ailments.

Crystal Parker, a Baltimore health care advocate related how she was diagnosed at age nine with Lupus. Her life story included having to go through kidney dialysis for eight years, had two kidney transplants and two bouts of cancer. She discovered that Medicare only covered however her transplant medication rejection drugs for three years. She asked “How was she supposed to save her transplant without any coverage?”

So, she moved to a new state and “through the help of a doctor” she was able to get several months of samples and finally was able to get a Medicare waiver allowing her to go back to work so she could afford her life-saving medication that cost several hundred dollars a month.

Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen who has been instrumental in overcoming high-price pharmaceutical monopolies and in turn whose hard work and dedication have yielded HIV/AIDS medicine price reductions, said: “Send a message to Secretary Becerra, send a message to President Biden and the Congress that we expect lower drug prices now.”

He went on to note that “For more than fifteen years since the creation of Medicare part D health advocates across our country we have fought the government’s basic ability to negotiate prices on behalf of Medicare, the world’s largest drug purchaser with prescription drug corporation’s monopolists protected by our own governments patent system.” And that because of abusive practices and the conduct of drug corporations, people must ration medicine for their conditions. “Health care is a human right.” He ended on a positive note by speaking about the Inflation Reduction Act that will finally help in keeping costs reasonable for patients. However, the fight continues as new medicines will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year with negotiations for price reductions not taking place for years after their introductions.

Patient activist Emmabella Rudd spoke of her personal struggle with the affordability of insulin treating her type 1 diabetes. She told how patients must purchase a monthly supply of insulin at pharmacies who charge $300 a vial for a 30-day supply for what costs manufacturers $6 to produce. As a result, she related that “Diabetics are left with one choice, either they pay, or they die. It’s not right. One in four diabetics report rationing their insulin in the United States.” She ended her comments by asking, “Why do insulin prices fail to be negotiated and capped? The answer to all of this is pharmaceutical greed.”

Arthur Blair from Spaces in Action, a Washington, DC education, equity and justice group, related his personal struggle with a debilitating illness that he was suddenly overcome with and how it has affected his life, job and family much to his detriment. “I became unemployed, without insurance and no means to get my medication, forcing me to separate from my home, and my children losing their health care and in the end, losing my home.” Mr. Blair depends on five different medications every day for his condition. He credited the Inflation Reduction Act as offering long overdue reforms for seniors on Social Security and ended by calling for Medicare for all.

In ending the protest, a Pig Piñata with dollar signs on its side was broken. Inside were hundreds of plastic prescription bottles that spilled out onto the plaza each containing a message of one person’s struggle with high prescription prices calling for affordable medicine. Afterward, the bottles along with a petition signed by hundreds of people from across the country were gathered and delivered to a representative of Secretary Becerra for him to learn firsthand of people’s struggle with access to affordable prescription medication.

Activists have their work cut out for them as Big Pharma through the FDA’s “User Fee” program contribute three quarters of the monies needed to operate the federal agency. The user fee program was established during the AIDS crisis as a means in seeking a cure for the horrific disease.

Through the program, pharmaceutical and medical device corporations who make these payments hold huge influence over the agency in return for fast-tracking their products to gain quick approval.

Thus, the very agency that is supposed to make sure medicines and medical devices are safe and effective instead favor accelerated approvals at the corporation’s behest thereby underserving the public they are charged with protecting.

The “User Fee” program is subject to review every five years and this year Congress has begun undertaking that task. One provision being sought for the program in the revised bill is to speed the approval of generic drugs thus lowering the price of medicines for consumers and insurers. To stifle competition to keep drug prices artificially high in favor of big pharma, a proposal to fast-track approval for generic drugs of off-patent medicines is being opposed by both pharma lobbyists and some GOP legislators.

Report and photos by Phil Pasquini

(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.

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