Big Business Needs to Get Out of Health Care

Demanding that big corporations behave ethically is the only way to give Americans the care they are paying for.

The free market can be a beautiful thing for consumers, but when pharmaceutical companies get so huge that they can rig the system, success comes at the cost of patient care. Big money has become a power player in the healthcare world. It’s one more crack in the stressed American healthcare system, and it’s getting worse.

In a perfect world, medicine would be free. In the real world, the business of selling drugs is hugely lucrative, and pharmaceutical companies are abandoning their ethics to squeeze as much money as possible from the nation’s ills.

The Martin Shkreli Effect

You can’t talk about pharmaceutical scams today and not bring up Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli. He has become one of the public’s favorite people to hate after implementing egregious price hikes on multiple medications. That story, however, only scratches the surface of the way big companies are re-shaping health care for their benefit.

Not only does Shkreli collect when someone pays for one of his drugs at a 5000% markup, but he also benefits from his position as a shareholder in a publicly traded organization. This is the case with nearly every big pharma company; and, while you might think those investor dollars are going back into researching new drugs, you’d be wrong. The largest pharmaceutical companies invest the majority of their funding into marketing, not research and development.

That means that discovery of new medications is left to smaller biotech companies and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Both are capable, but shouldn’t a company like Pfizer want to put its name on new findings? The fact is: they don’t. They would rather ensure that their existing products remain popular and show just enough new development to keep doctors prescribing them.

Corruption in Research

So how do large drug makers ensure that their products stay relevant? By outperforming the competition in research studies. You might be interested to find out whose money is going into those studies.

GlaxoSmithKline developed and sold the diabetes drug Avandia. A large international study found Avandia to be more effective than standard therapies; but the drug was pulled from the market four years later after Avandia was linked to increased risk of heart attack, a fact overlooked during the study.

Eleven (11) authors who took part in the diabetes study, it turns out, received money from GlaxoSmithKline; and four of them were shareholders in the company. Rather than do the right thing and notify the authorities about the dangers of Avandia, the researchers took their money and kept their mouths shut.

The level of involvement that drug producers have in market research is frightening. Even in the extremely prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), pharmaceutical companies funded 60 of 73 studies published between 2011 and 2012. Of those, company employees co-authored 50 of them, and 37 had a lead author who received outside compensation from the company.

Making Things Right

We can keep the healthcare industry from taking advantage of American people, but it will take action from voters and the industry itself.

For starters, we have to remove the potential for companies to benefit by buying studies. If big pharma is still allowed to foot the bill for these studies, a third party ought to review them, and companies need to be transparent about whether participants received compensation.

The next step lies with Congress, which is doing no one any favors by running in circles around the proposed repeal of the ACA. Rather than playing political football, Congress should implement changes to our health care laws that would enable people to shop for different medications. Drug prices will not come down if insurers only allow their clients to select expensive options.

The final part of the equation lies with doctors and researchers working in the industry, who know about these types of scams. These people must be empowered to come forward and share what they know. The focus of healthcare must be on keeping people healthy, not making money.

Regardless of whether the system in place is Obamacare, or Trumpcare, or something entirely new, demanding that big corporations behave ethically is the only way to give Americans the care they are paying for.

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Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is a political writer with an interest in social justice and human rights. If you like her writing, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, “Only Slightly Biased.”
Kate Harveston