Image of a quotation mark or symbol of opinion (Wiktoria Matynia via Shutterstock)
(Wiktoria Matynia via Shutterstock) Credit: Wiktoria Matynia / Shutterstock

As a patient advocate, I have to respectfully disagree with Mark Finley’s opinion on how to make drugs affordable.

I have cystic fibrosis. I have been lucky enough to be around for the development and release of a handful of life-changing drugs in my time. Taking a pill that improves your quality of life makes it very hard for a lot of people to question the company that made it. They saved your life, so of course they deserve billions in profits. You wouldn’t be here without them. But they put a literal price on your life – in my case, over $330,000 a year.

So, in addition to their lobbying armies, the pharmaceutical industry also has a number of homegrown defenders, because in the daily battle of patient’s lives, they’re the ones trying to get you the drugs you need while your insurance company is always trying to take them from you.

But while the drugs are saving lives today, the profit margins are slowly tanking the entire US healthcare system. Mr. Finley follows a well-worn path of confusing the reader by blaming insurers and limiting his drug affordability ideas to copays and deductibles. But we are smarter than that. Consumers understand that skyrocketing drug costs also drive up unaffordable insurance premiums. Those premiums are squeezing family finances just as much as out-of-pocket costs. We don’t care which pocket they’re taking the profits from.

Healthcare costs are out of control, but the pharmaceutical industry blames the insurance industry, and the insurance industry blames the pharmaceutical industry. So nothing happens and they all can continue taking massive profits. 

The current proposal to start controlling costs is to cap drug-price increases at inflation plus 2%. This is a modest cap on a company’s ability to increase the prices of older drugs they’ve already brought to the market. This is pretty reasonable for an extremely profitable industry. But their lobbyists claim that even this small step will grind all biotech to a halt. An argument could be made that prohibiting the industry from gouging us on older drugs will encourage them to make new innovations.

Raising prices on innovations made years ago is a major cornerstone of the pharmaceutical business. In 2007, Mylan acquired the rights to the lifesaving EpiPen, a treatment approved by the FDA in 1987, and by 2016 had raised the price by 600%. The only “innovation” there was for shareholders.

I join Mr. Finley in thanking drug companies for their efforts to get us the COVID vaccine in record time. But we also thank all the publicly funded scientists and the taxpayers that made it possible. The companies have also been handsomely rewarded with record profits in 2020. 

Fortunately, it’s possible to both love the drugs you’re on and think they’re too expensive, just in the same way it’s possible to think both the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry are broken. 

Jay Gironimi is an independent patient advocate

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of