Healthcare Barbarians Are We

Members of the 1% have been pitching hissy fits lately over perceived slights and injustices. One recently declared that there is a “war” against the 1% and then compared the outrage over the rich to the Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom Kristallnacht. He later apologized, sort of.

Last weekend, Think Progress highlighted comments by Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers about the accessibility in India of a new anti-cancer drug his company pioneered.

[W]e did not develop this product for the Indian market, let’s be honest. We developed this product for Western patients who can afford this product, quite honestly. It is an expensive product, being an oncology product.
-Quoted from Think Progress, Jan. 26, 2014

So this drug, called Nexavar, treats late-stage liver and kidney cancer. In India it costs $69,000 a year for treatment, an amount way over the annual per capita income. Indian law allows other companies to produce the drug if they can do so at a reasonable cost. A local Indian pharmaceutical can make the drug with a price tag of about $2,070 a year, an enormous discount. Bayer is not happy and is suing. Mr. Dekkers called the reproduction of the drug at an affordable price “essentially theft.” Never mind that the drug is likely saving lives. It’s lives that cannot afford the drug, hence, he’s not concerned.

Don’t think his callousness rests only with Indians or others in the developing world. Note well this part of his hissy fit: “We developed this product for Western patients who can afford this product.” (Emphasis added.) In the US, Nexavar runs $96,000, but with insurance, the copays can be as little as $100. That is, if your insurance plan will cover it. If not, then, oh well. And in any case, for some even a $100 copay is burdensome.

Rather than throw invectives at Mr. Dekkers, I’d actually like to thank him. Yes, I would. I’d like to thank him for deftly demonstrating why our healthcare system is so screwed up. Those who oppose the Affordable Care Act or any tinkering with our nation’s healthcare and health delivery system will tell you time and again that in the United States, we have the best healthcare system in the world. Why, we have technological advances that can cure all sorts of diseases. The future is here! They omit the big asterisk leading to the fine print that says, “But only for those who can afford it.”

Mr. Dekkers provided that asterisk in bold, brash language.

I found myself seething at his remarks because, as readers of this blog know, I have a brother who is currently fighting cancer. And while this particular drug might not be relevant to his circumstance, I have no doubt that other new drugs might be, but they are out of reach because of costs and coverage issues. What the hell is the point of having miracle drugs and life-saving operations using the latest technology if folks cannot afford them?

Recently, Time.com reported that a man with a snake bite received an astounding $89,000 bill for 18 hours in the emergency room and four vials of anti venom medicine. His insurance helped to bring down the cost to only $20,000 of which he had to pay $5,400. The man and his wife researched and discovered that the anti-venom medicine runs anywhere from $750 to $12,000 a vial. The hospital charged $20,000 a vial.

First, what’s up with that price range for the drug. $750 to $12,000? Second, what’s up with the hospital’s mark up? Third, tell me again how it is that we have the best medical system in the world?

The ACA is supposed to help mitigate such outrageous pricing schemes, though I fear that it will only help so much. The system is just too out of whack. A friend of mine, who frequents Argentina, had to go for a hospital stay during one of his trips. The cost: zero. He’s not an Argentinian. He was only a tourist. But they treated him for nothing. What are we doing wrong?

I’ll tell you what we’re doing wrong, or rather what we did wrong. We allowed the free market to (rhymes with muck) up our healthcare system to where it is the ultimate and most cruel of meritocracies. If you have money, great, you’re in. If you don’t, tough shit. Even if you have Medicare or Medicaid, you might still not have access to the latest and greatest, the most life-saving treatments, all because of lack of money. That isn’t just cruel, it’s barbaric. We’ve allowed our addiction to money to turn us into savage barbarians.  Argentina has it right. India has it right. We don’t. The minute you attach profit motives to saving lives, all bets are off.

And I can thank Mr. Dekkers of the 1% for demonstrating so perfectly everything that is wrong with healthcare in this country.

© 2014, gar. All rights reserved.


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