Boland column: A few truths about drug prices |

Boland column: A few truths about drug prices

The combined profits for the 10 drug companies in the Fortune 500 list amount to more than $35 billion and are more than the profits of all the other 490 companies put together.

And they have an army of lobbyists and lawyers busily working to keep it that way. In fact, these drug companies have the largest lobby in Washington. Their money has captured not only the U.S. Congress, but also the regulatory agencies that are helping them twist and manipulate the law in order to keep drug prices inordinately high.

It’s just plain robbery — robbery of you and me.

The law prohibiting Medicare from negotiating drug prices is the prime example of Big Pharma’s power over the feckless members of the U. S. Congress.

But the incredible and unjustified favors they receive from the regulatory agencies play just as big a role in keeping U.S. pharmaceutical prices far higher than anywhere else in the world.

Consider the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is supposed to grant patents only to the inventor of a process or manufactured item or composition of matter that is “new, useful and non-obvious.”

But the favorite game of these pharma giants is to avoid the risks of trying to invent or discover something truly “new, useful and non-obvious.” Instead, they make some superficial change to a drug with a patent about to expire, a change that is seldom of much additional therapeutic benefit. In fact, some of these changes involve just some small improvement in the method of delivery.

Then they get their compliant regulators to give them a new 20-year patent on the drug that is hardly better than the original and send their highly paid drug reps out to convince physicians to prescribe it, and also pay for a host of TV ads to convince patients to ask for the supposedly “new and improved” version of the drug. Once they have physicians and patients on board, they start raising the price to the ridiculous levels that keep their astronomical and unjustified profits going.

Their public relations departments claim over and over that these high drug prices are justified by their high research and development expenditures. That is baloney, because their R&D expenditures are, in virtually all cases, a tiny fraction of their expenditures on marketing and lobbying.

It seems to me that the U.S. patent office is actually issuing frivolous, worthless and quite possibly illegal patents. But then money talks and these bureaucrats will be rewarded, often with highly paid lobbying or other jobs with the same drug companies once they leave government. It’s called the revolving door. Corporate executives are appointed to the relevant regulatory agencies, serve a number of years, and then go back to the corporations.

It is time to restore our patent system to its original purpose, namely the protection of only true discoveries and inventions for 20 years and no more.

Another Big Pharma scam is “pay for delay,” whereby patent owners pay off generic manufacturers to wait a certain number of years before entering the market. It seems to me this practice is illegal under our antitrust laws, which declare it illegal to “restrain trade in any way.”

Meanwhile the equally corrupt Federal Drug Administration seems to be complicit in this general thrust to delay generics. It is taking longer than two years to approve generic applications and has a backlog of more than 4,000 generic drug applications. Europe’s version of the FDA generally has less than 30 generic drug applications awaiting approval.

This is all one more sad, sad example of the truly pernicious effects of letting big money influence politics.

We desperately need a constitutional amendment overturning the right-wing Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling that corporations are legal people and have the same free speech rights as people, that money is speech and thus that curbing corporate political spending is against the constitutional prohibition of curbs on free speech.

We need an amendment making clear once and for all that the U.S. Constitution applies only to human beings and that corporations, creations of state legislatures, have no rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. As one protester’s sign read: “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” The amendment should also define free speech as not meaning money.

Trump would hate such an amendment. Hillary has promised to promote such an amendment. Can we count on her? In my opinion, only if we all work for it and even if it means raising a little hell.

Mary Boland is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale. This is her final regular column for the Post Independent; she says she’s said what she has to say.

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