By Henry Ehrlich
Sometimes numbers tell a story that words can’t. Sunday morning I opened my New York Times and there were two new stories about Mylan’s adventures in pricing. That made three in the previous 24 hours. According to the search engine on the website, there had been 71 over 12 months. But that’s when the numbers started getting interesting. Sixty-six of those 71 were from the last 30 days, 24 of them in the previous seven. Clearly the story has caught fire. However, the most important thing is how the saga has gone from a price-gouging story to a symbol of so much that is rotten about our healthcare system.
The most interesting of the Sunday stories — “Old Drug, Pricey New Package” — was by Elizabeth Rosenthal, who used to be a Times writer and now works for the Kaiser Foundation, and author of the forthcoming book, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How to Take It Back. If this piece is any indication, I can’t wait for her book.
“Old Drug…” begins where I suspect much of the new wave of Epi journalism does–from personal experience, although in Ms. Rosenthal’s case, it was to relieve acute asthma attacks back in the 1960s and it was given by syringe by her summer camp nurse. Then she recounts the alchemy of technology, lobbying, and law by which a dollar’s worth of medicine changes into a $600-a-hit medical necessity for millions.
Rosenthal says that this price spike may lead to some remedies for a broader crisis in American medicine, of which the current one is just a symptom. She cites Dr. Aaron Kesselheim from Harvard who suggests, “(T)he government could regard extreme prices as it does drug shortages, allowing for emergency imports of cheaper products. The United States patent office and the F.D.A. could be stingier in handing out market exclusivity for patents on drugs and delivery devices that offer little or no benefit. A national body could set price ceilings for essential medicines (as occurs in other countries), or review rate increases levied on products that are unchanged.”
But she also warns that other fiascoes like this will undoubtedly take place as consultants, lawyers, and various other trolls lurk on the road ahead. Bankers whom I used to write for always warned that reforms undertaken in a time of crisis always laid the groundwork for the next crisis. Of course that didn’t stop them from creating new crises when those reforms were rolled back. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the current profiteers take a hit for now. And for more comprehensive reforms, I eagerly await Rosenthal’s book. Let’s hope the embarrassment of Mylan doesn’t turn out to be another news boom that goes bust.
e-mail me with your questions and comments at:
or fill-out the contact form in
our contact page