Pharma Is Selling Healthcare Freedom Down The River

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Files

Mytheos Holt Policy Analyst
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Big Pharma is deservedly unpopular today. The appearance of Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals as a seeming reductio ad absurdum of the industry’s vices has been a millstone around its neck. The Republican presumptive nominee for the presidency, Donald Trump, has openly savaged the industry repeatedly and promised to negotiate aggressively with them as part of his generalized indictment of American government. The Obama administration, having been utterly defanged by the industry for most of its reign, has recently started teething again over the issue of high drug prices.

In short, every political wind is blowing against the drug industry so hard it would leave even the most durable weathervanes on the ground.

And yet, despite all this, the industry continues to make a spectacle of its own malevolence. A recent story in the New York Times, for example, mentions that pharma raised drug prices by an incredible 12 percent during 2015, and that more price hikes are already streaming down the pike. Johnson & Johnson, for example, raised prices on at least two top selling products in April alone.

What’s more, next week, the industry will sponsor what amounts to a hatefest about the 340B drug discount program. The program – which isn’t taxpayer funded — requires pharmaceutical companies that want access to Medicaid and Medicare Part B funds to provide discounted medication to hospitals that serve a lot of poor or otherwise underserved populations. Its beneficiaries, along with indigent people, include such perfect sympathy magnets as children’s hospitals. Big Pharma loathes the program and wants to gut it. But from a purely political perspective, even a popular industry should think better of going after 340B. How, you might wonder, could the drug industry be so utterly un-self aware?

As it happens, the New York Times story suggests that it might not be. In fact, the piece more or less admits that Big Pharma, having seen its popularity decline so precipitously, and knowing that action against it in the political sphere is all but guaranteed, is desperately trying to squeeze as much profit out of the market as possible before regulations far less gentle than 340B put the squeeze on. It’s exactly the kind of short-sighted move you’d expect from an industry willing to back Obamacare without regard for the powers it would grant a hostile federal government, only to cry foul when that hostility starts to materialize.

This bit of insight from the Times story is invaluable for conservatives who want to preserve a healthcare system relatively free of socialized medicine schemes. The fact is that if one wants to keep freedom in the healthcare market, pharma has shown itself to be at best, an unreliable ally. It is willing to stick its foot in its own mouth for an extra buck in the short run, even if that means sawing that foot off in the long run. The recent price gouging shows that the drug industry, contrary to its stated mission of saving lives, believes we’re merely a nation of easy marks with our wallets hanging open.

Conservatives have two options about how to respond to this: We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the drug industry is still a staunch ally, or we can construct an agenda that can save Big Pharma from itself and drags it kicking and screaming back toward respectability.

And make no mistake, we are the only ones who can do this. Democrats are chomping at the bit to urn the industry into a scapegoat to aid their push for socialized medicine, and pharma is too shortsighted to do anything but confirm their hysterical attacks.

It’s time we step in and stop the drug industry from selling leftists the rope with which to hang it. At a twelve percent markup, of course.