Perhaps you remember the big, expensive, confusing Medicare reform bill of the not too distant past. The bill that added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare? The one that was just a big give-away to the pharmaceutical industry? Even though the bill only recently took affect, the government has all but conceeded that it doesn't do nearly enough to help those on Medicare, and it doesn't do a damn thing for those of us who aren't on Medicare (thankfully).
On Tuesday, Tommy Thompson (the head of Health and Human Services) acknowledged that it was just a matter of time until the US allows importation of drugs from Canada and other nations and that he would press GeeDubya not to stand in the the way of such actions.
By doing so, Thompson all but acknowledged that the much bally-hooed Medicare drug benefit was a worthless broken down cart-horse already. Thanks, Tommy. That was a great multi-million dollar give-away to the pharmaceutical industry.
So, people using the almighty Medicare drug discount cards still can't afford their medications. Those of us fortunate (unfortunate?) enough not to have Medicare coverage also suffer from obscenely high drug costs. Of course, the drug industry always claims that high drug costs are necessary to support continued R&D into new, exciting (and expensive) drugs. If drug prices were to fall, the industry titans proclaim, the pharmaceutical industry could no longer afford to persue fabulous numbers of new drugs and treatments and everyone would suffer. This, of course, is a huge load of big business horse-shit.
First of all, as anyone with a chronic medical condition will tell you, the drug companies have zero interest in curing chronic conditions. Diabetics, people with high blood pressure, or those with chronic pain, for instance, are much more profitable customers for the drug companies when they are simply taking medication to control their diseases. If the drug companies were to cure these folks somehow, they would no longer be steady, reliable sources of income.
The drug companies will gladly try to find cures for cancer (at least the cancers that affect many, many people) because dead people can't possibly buy drugs from drug companies. So, by finding ways to keep cancer patients alive longer drug companies benefit because they can sell more drugs.
Of course, it goes without saying that most drug companies are only interested in treating the most common diseases. If a disaease affects something like 1000 people per year in the US, most drug companies have little or no interest in developing, testing, and bringing to market a drug to treat those people. The cost of doing so, most drug companies will tell you, would make such a drug unaffordable for 999 of the 1000 afflicted people.
So, drug companies will develop drugs to treat (not cure) chronic conditions. They will develop drugs to cure common deadly conditions. But, they only do this to make a profit, not out of the good of their heart.
What hope do those of us with chronic medical conditions or with unusual medical conditions have for finding a cure? Well, those hopes lie with those folks conducting research in universities and medical research labs.
Unfortunately, many of these labs are growing more and more dependant on funding from drug companies as government funding for basic science is cut time and time again. So, even these labs are forced to spend more and more of their time doing work for the drug companies on the drug companies' agendas, rather than research that might benefit the public directly.
What would be the net effect of lowering drug prices across the board by government mandate? Well, Americans would spend less on prescription drugs. Since Americans would spend less on prescription drugs, more money would be available in the economy to fund independant research at universities and medical labs. So, the amount of money spent on drug research might not change, but Americans would get more control and accountability over how drug research dollars are spent.
If those working in labs and universities were able to conduct research without the harness of industry directing them in particular directions, we might see some truly amazing breakthroughs in drug research.
Of course, there would be some side effects (can anyone talk about drugs without a side effects disclaimer? See my ad in Men's Health magazine for more information.) to lower drug prices and smaller drug companies.
Doctors would no longer get to take drug industry sponsored vacations. Sorry doc, you'll have to dig deep into your six-figure salary to go to Bora Bora this year.
Golf courses would have to find other customers to pay their midday greens fees as drug companies would no longer have the money to take doctors out on the golf course for eighteen holes of golf and six drinks on the nineteenth hole.
Doctors would no longer be all but paid outright to prescribe particular medications for their patients.
Sure, there would be some side effects, but I'm sure that Bora Bora, golf courses, and doctors would muddle through somehow.