Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Outrage and Disgust

I just read a Time Magazine article entitled, "How Drug-Industry Lobbyists Won on Health Care".

The article was in the November 2, 2009 issue of Time. The main point is that the health care bill that was submitted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee included a provision that would allow drug companies up to 12 years of exclusive rights to the data and manufacture of biological drugs (medicines derived from living matter); others suggested 5 years and Obama advocated 7 years.

I am frankly outraged and disgusted. Here are a few statistics regarding drug lobbying in the first six months of this year:

1. Biotechnology lobbyists spent $110 million ($609,000/day) in the first six months to influence lawmakers.

2. The drug industry's registered lobbyists number 1,228 people, or 2.3 people per member of Congress.

3. Campaign contributions to those members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have totaled $2.6 million in the past three years.

Imagine if $609,000/day were spent instead on insuring our nation's uninsured or underinsured. Imagine.

I recently heard two stories of needless deaths that occurred because the individuals could not access or afford needed drugs. One woman, a friend of a co-worker, died because she needed a liver transplant; her liver failed because her insurance would not cover the needed drugs that would keep her liver functional until she could get a transplant (or else it was because she couldn't get the drug earlier this year that would've kept her liver going longer). Another young man, encountered when some friends went elk-hunting, died of a two-hour plus seizure. He had been in a car accident six months prior that caused some brain damage that caused the seizures and he was unemployed, had no insurance, and could not afford the anti-seizure medicine.

Millions spent in the last six months to lobby. Not to heal. Millions spent to make a profit.

I am so pissed off right now.

Also, think about these other numbers given in the same article, which are the sales of various biologic drugs:

1) Avastin, made by Genentech, which can be used to treat various cancers (it cuts off the blood supply to cancer cells) - $9.2 Billion (yes billion, not million)

2) Enbrel, made by Immunex, to treat rheumatoid arthritis - $8.0 billion

3) Remicade, made by Centocor Ortho Biotech, to treat inflammatory disorders - $7.9 billion

4) Humira, made by Abbot, to treat rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis - $7.3 billion

5) Rituxan, made by Genentech, to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis - $7.3 billion

6) Herceptin, made by Genentech, to treat breast cancer - $5.7 billion (this could be a drug I go on someday if my current treatment fails)

7) Lantus, made by Sanofi Aventis, to treat diabetes - $5.1 billion

8) Epogen, Procrit, made by Amgen, Ortho Biotech, to treat anemia (which can be caused by various chemo treatments) - $5.1 billion

9) Neulasta, made by Amgen, for neutropenia - $4.2 billion

10) Novolog, made by Novo Nordisk, to treat diabetes - $3.7 billion

By my count, that is $63 billion dollars. $63,000,000,000 dollars in sales.

The article doesn't mention what the total profit was for these drugs; one has to factor in the development and manufacture of them. However, I know that Herceptin has been around for at least ten years, so they have probably covered their costs for development already and I bet they have figured out the most cost-effective way to manufacture the drug - I think they have to use cow blood or something to manufacture it.

All I can think of is that the profit margin must be really high and that those profits go to the CEO's and higher ups and to shareholders.

Someone mentioned (in that pissing match I had on Facebook) that many retirement accounts invest in companies such as these - so the person apparently cared more that his retirement nest egg showed healthy (ahem - no pun intended) profits. So, rather than being concerned by the cost of the drugs to individuals or insurance companies - for instance, Herceptin costs $48,000 for a year's treatment for one person - the person was more interested in himself. Unfortunately, that's indicative of our society's value on the individual rather than on community welfare. There's a time and a place for that emphasis, but I tend to think that everyone loses when our community as a whole isn't strong.

How does one express this kind of outrage in a blog? I'm just disgusted. Shame on the pharmaceutical companies. And, shame on the lawmakers for taking the money, too. It's literally blood money.



Spirit said...

We have discussed (disgusted) this between us on more than one occasion. Same old, same old, profits, huge profits, blood profits (our blood)are more important than people. And it goes to a select few. No one can tell me differently. I am totally sick of this sick society we all live in. This includes the rest of the world. With technology being what it is, no one single person should go hungry, world wide, or be denied health care. Pissed, you bet. Damn assholes!It will not change until all of us stand up and say, ENOUGH!!!

Dee said...

Yeah, dad, we do need to say, "ENOUGH"! However, what do we say enough to? Campaign contributions? Outlaw lobbying? Make pharmaceutical and insurance companies non-profits? The article mentions that there were various non-profit organizations that were writing letters of support to politicians for 5 or 12 years ... and it turns out that those non-profit organizations were getting financial support from the pharmaceutical companies. So, while the non-profit seems to be altruistic - it's getting money from the for-profit pharmaceuticals, making its opinion suspect. It's a huge convoluted mess and how to untangle it is what the issue is.

Liz Kreger said...

I agree ... this is disgusting. I've been the recipient of at least three of those drugs you listed and its sickening to know that the pharms are making such a huge profit from a person's illness.

You just shot my day all to hell, Dee.

As far as the non-profits go ... can't say I blame them for taking money from the pharms. In most cases, where else would they get it? The government? I don't think so. Sure there are grants, but never enough to go around. If a non-profit can take money from a pharm and turn around and use it for something good ...

Carver said...

It is upsetting. Good post.

S said...

Well deserved rant. It's despicable. I cling to hope to change this, but meanwhile, your words ring too true.

(BTW, stay strong in your own personal fight. You're one tough cookie!)

Please drop by for a friendly visit to my writing & photography blog.

Dee said...

Hi Liz,
Sorry I ruined your day! I certainly didn't mean to do that . . . I wrote that to bring light to an issue and maybe to help change. Who knows, though? I hope you were able to recover!

Hi Carver and Gel, Thanks for your comments. I think cancer patients deserve a rant now and then, eh? I'm still disgusted. I keep hoping, too.