Reader Mail

Down on Big Pharma

Pills at any price? Also: Not hearing it on Iraq. Plus more.

11.29.05

Send to Kindle

CAUGHT ON CATANIA
Re: Doug Bandow's The World of David Catania:

Mr. Bandow makes a straight-forward and very rational argument when he points out the unfairness of the city of Washington, D.C. trying to fix prices on pharmaceuticals.

But his article ignores the other side of the issue: How much profit is enough for companies whose monopolistic position has been enhanced by public funding?

By monopolistic, I mean that the average consumer does not have the option of "shopping around" for a better price for drugs. Alternate drugs are not freely available in the market place. Drug makers limit the ability of their competitors to compete with their products by the use of intellectual property rights. That's what patenting is all about. But for the consumer, the situation is more akin to the need for electricity or natural gas, if there is only one supplier in the area where you live, you are at the mercy of that one company. That is why public utilities were created. When it comes to drugs, the consumer is sometimes forced to face the choice of paying up or dying. And while that may be a valid theoretical outcome of market economics, I'm not sure that the American people, a Christian nation of great compassion, are ready to allow people to suffer and die for lack of money.

And as far as public funding goes, it is my understanding that a large percentage of the research carried out by Big Pharma begins in academia, where research grants and government aid to students and professors alike are supported by tax dollars. If fact, academic research is a great tool for the drug makers because when the publicly funded research is successful, it shows the drug makers where to start the private research, and when an academic program comes up a bust, it eliminates dead ends that would be a waste of the corporate money. And then our system of intellectual property secures the profit making ability of a company for what can amount to decades.

So the issue is not as simplistic as the article would seem to indicate. The real problem, it would seem to me, is that people are uncomfortable with the large profits made by Big Pharma. Correct me if I'm wrong, but unlike industries like steel or automobile makers, I don't remember any Big Pharma companies going bankrupt in recent years. To the contrary, year after year the drug makers are consistently some of the most profitable companies around.

So, does the government, which on one hand represents the consumers who have no choice and at the same time at least partially funds the profit making producers while providing competitive restrictions in the form of patents, have any right to regulate Big Pharma?
-- Robert Casselberry

Wonderful article. My biggest free market fantasy would be to see the pharmaceutical industry announce to the world that they would be closing their doors of manufacturing and research for a full year in order to test whether their products would be missed by people in general and the hand-wringing whiners that go by the names of trial lawyers and politicians to be specific. Wouldn't that be fun if we could survive such a test?
-- Anthony Mastroserio

Doug Bandow doesn't get it. Drug companies don't pay for most of the research they do; you and I do by paying the taxes that support the universities where most of it is done. Drug companies make a 15% a year profit while the average profit of a Fortune 500 company is around 5%. Drug companies spend 20% of their budgets on advertising, which we pay for. Drug companies fix prices by forcing Americans, with the help of colluding legislators, to pay more than is paid in other countries for the same pills.

I was a state senator for a time. I introduced a bill that would have had consumers pay the 20% advertising cost of the drugs they bought if they chose to buy an advertised drug over an equally beneficial unadvertised drug. During the committee hearing, three committee members suddenly appeared in the room (all Democrats by the way), the Democratic chairman called the vote and the three committee members killed the bill, then they immediately got up and left. In the hall, the Pharma lobbyist, decked out in at least $3000, caught up with me and smirked, "Any other bills you'd like us to kill for you?"

I firmly believe that capitalism is by far the best of all economic engines. I also believe that capitalism is amoral, driven by the quest for profit and not by the best interests of society, and that is as it should be. It all works when there is open and fair competition. But when lawmakers are in the pocket of Pharma, and competition and fair play are cynically suppressed by their collusion, the people get a very bitter pill indeed.

Open the borders to drug imports.
-- Allen Hurt, MD
New Mexico

You refer to the fact that Australia, Britain, Canada, and Germany all impose price controls upon prescription pharmaceuticals. Mr. Catania's legislative imposition of a max D.C. price of 30% over and above the prices in those countries suggests a much higher price in the U.S. for those same drugs. Also, I appreciate and agree with your argument that price controls are a disincentive to innovation and would result in less research and fewer "miracle" drugs on the market.

However, "market" pricing in the U.S. for the same drugs that are "price controlled" in other countries must result in Americans subsidizing the health care systems in those other locales. No? If there were no price controls in other countries, would the price settle at some weighted average between the U.S. "premium" price and the overseas "controlled" prices?

What would happen if Big Pharma just told the price capping countries to stuff the controls or they wouldn't get the drugs? Would we be faced with mass intellectual property theft as copycat drugs were home-grown and sold in the overseas locations? Hmmm? Would overseas assets of American pharmaceutical companies be seized?

I can agree with the market pricing of prescription pharmaceuticals as long as that pricing is universal and it's not just we Americans who end up paying a market premium to subsidize our "allies" and others by paying more than the world-wide average price.
-- Dennis Sevakis
Bloomfield, Michigan

'NAM-INAL THOUGHTS
Re: Jed Babbin's The Vietnamization of Iraq:

Once again, Jed Babbin nails it.

Biden, Levin, Reid, Pelosi, Kerry, Durbin, Rockefeller, et al. continually demagogue the War on Terror and the war on the ground in Iraq.

When challenged, they wonder huffily if their patriotism is being questioned, and continue to demonstrate that their patriotism is highly questionable. They are demagogues whose primary interest and aim is to promote their own political power. They revel in the notion that they have President Bush on the run. I believe that they revel in every setback in Iraq, that they actually would rather lose the war than see the Bush Administration succeed. So they keep up a drumbeat that "Bush lied!" knowing that that is a lie every time they say it.

At the same time, one can't help but wonder if the administration is comprised of a bunch of dumbbells. It allows these liars to make a punching bag of it day after day, week after week, until people begin to accept their baloney as truth. When the President and Vice President finally seem to realize this, they respond. Why did it take so long? Are they going to keep it up? The Administration should not allow them for a moment to get away with these assaults on the nation's will to continue the struggle. The so-called mainstream media aids and abets the demagogues. What we hear about on a daily basis is that X number of Americans have been killed. The Administration ought to selling its case, again and again, and it’s a case worth selling and easily sold. It is that we must win this war, that we dare not lose it, and that by virtually every standard of measurement, we are winning it.

Because of what we have done in Iraq, Libya has given up its nuclear weapons program, Syria has withdrawn from Iraq, Egypt is tilting toward democracy, Iraq now has a constitution, and soon (this month) will elect a government. A Defense Department web site shows that 3,100 schools in Iraq have been renovated, 364 more are being rehabilitated, another 263 are under construction and more than 4,000,000 Iraqi children were enrolled in primary schools by mid-October. Additionally, 20 universities, 46 Institutes or colleges and four research centers are now operating. The Iraq Police Service now has more than 55,000 fully trained and equipped police officers, and the police academies are producing 3,500 new officers every eight weeks. Some 1,100 construction projects are underway, including 15 hospitals, 93 water facilities, 69 electrical facilities and 67 public clinics. 96 percent of Iraqi children have received the first two series of polio vaccinations.

Iraq now is served by 180 newspapers, ten TV stations and 75 radio stations. Two of Iraq's presidential candidates engaged in a televised debate recently. The Baghdad stock exchange has been open for a year and a half.

The American people deserve to know all this, but they won't hear it from the Administration's enemies, who are not all insurgents. The Administration has a strong case to make, and must keep making it.
-- John G. Hubbell
Minnetonka, Minnesota

I don't agree that troop withdrawals or drawdowns from Iraq is the "pressing issue" it is made out to be. I think much of the dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq is artificial. The opposition is soft and squishy, not hard and focused, and it results from Bush's failure to counter attack until now. I think a significant portion of the public do not wish us to cut and run, or give Al Qaeda a withdrawal target to shoot at.

Take away the demagoguery and propagandizing and we see how much good we have done in Iraq. Iraqis know!
-- G.B. Hall
Marietta, Georgia

OTHER PLANS
Re: Jay D. Homnick's Time for Iraq Plan Z:

With all due respect, your article completely misses the real problem with the war in Iraq. And that is, our troops are fighting a war on three fronts. First is the enemy in Iraq, then there are the next two, the enemies from within. And they are the left-wing mainstream media and the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Zarqawi is but a sideshow.
-- Jim L
East Sandwich, Massachusetts

DA VINCI TOAD
Re: The American Spectator's Books for Christmas:

The Da Vinci Code. You've got to be kidding. Atrociously written, poorly plotted, ahistorical. The work of an ignoramus.
-- Robert O'Brien

What is Roger Ebert doing on the same list as such noble Americans as George Allen, Fred Barnes, Grover Norquist, Ted Olson, Al Regnery, the Buckleys and RET? Ebert is merely a slimmed-down Michael Moore. My recommendation for reflective Christmas reading?

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
-- Jack Hughes
Chicago, Illinois

You may want to add A Table in the Presence by Lt. Cary Cash. It is a great account of The Lord's work in Iraq as seen through the eyes of a Marine chaplain in the heat of battle. Everyone I know who has read it has been touched deeply. Merry Christmas.
-- Jeff Young
Sumter, South Carolina

SOUNDS OF SILENCE
Re: Mary Rybak's Treacherous Talk:

Put Saddam in a bullet-proof, glass booth with a microphone the judge can turn on and off at his convenience. Our only worry then will be if he learns sign language.
-- Don Herion

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article