Killing Them Softly: Bankrupting Your Constituents for Special Interests

Americans pay far too much for prescription drugs.  Health insurance does not cover enough to keep you out of bankruptcy if you become seriously ill.

A few years ago, one of the secretaries at the Oklahoma House got breast cancer. She went through the usual harrowing treatments, and by the grace of God and good medicine, she is still with us today. However, even though she had health insurance, she and her husband had to declare bankruptcy because of the medical bills. 

She was lucky in that she didn’t have to face bankruptcy under the revised bankruptcy laws that the Bush administration pushed through for the credit card companies. She didn’t have to worry about losing her house.

This is what government of the special interests, by the special interests and for the special interests gives us. Americans pay too much for prescription drugs because of the hammerlock the drug companies have on both our elected officials and the FDA. Other governments protect their citizens from drug overcharges. The drug companies make up their profits by charging Americans 200% or 300% more for the same drug as they do people in other parts of the world. Our government protects them in doing this.

I once authored a bill to allow drug reimportation in Oklahoma. What this means is that Oklahoma citizens would have been able to buy drugs in Canada legally. The bill included a web site which would verify that the Canadian pharmacy was legitimate. The name “drug reimportation” refers to the fact that what the bill did was allow citizens to buy American drugs outside our country and “reimport” them back — but at a fraction of the cost they would pay if they had bought them in Oklahoma.

The drug companies, with their hammerlock on the leadership, smashed the bill flat. The House leadership did this in such a way that everyone got to vote for the bill before they killed it in back rooms. The bill was backed by Oklahoma’s governor who was a Democrat. It was the Republican House leadership that killed it.

The Affordable Health Care Act, with all its faults, is the direct result of the control of our government by special interests. Many legislators who voted  for it saw this legislation as a moral imperative. Special interests and their toady legislators created that situation.

Three prominent physicians, Dr Hagap Kantarjian, chair of the leukemia department of MD Anderson, Dr Leonard Zwelling, professor of medicine in MD Anderson’s department of experimental therapeutics, and Tito Fojo, head of the experimental therapeutics section of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post discussing these issues.

“Medical bills have become a major cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States,” they say, “which is not surprising, giving the amounts that even well-insured patients have to pay for drugs … can command a quarter to a third of some household’s annual income.”

Every solution these physicians call for is a common-sense remedy that has been voted down repeatedly by politicians who are in the back pocket of drug companies. 

The irony, which is certainly not lost on me, is that many of the politicians who use the power of the people against the people in this way campaign for office based on their Christian faith. They make strong statements about how pro life they are.

What they really mean is that they are anti-abortion — and once they get elected, not so much even that. You can not be pro life and deliberately do things that cause people to die from cancer. You are not much of a Christian if you sell the power of your elected office to special interests.

There are all sorts of things you can call people who do this, but “follower of Christ” is not one of them.

From the Prophets to Revelations, “unjust judges” or public officials who use “unjust scales” and deny the human rights of the poor are condemned. When Jesus described Judgement Day, He made it clear that we will be judged on how we treat others, specifically, “the least of these.”

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Some of the politicians who flaunt their Christianity to get elected and then work for special interests need to remember that.

The Washington Post op-ed article by Doctors Kantarjian, Zwelling and Fojo says in part:

… The average monthly price of cancer drugs has doubled over the past 10 years, from about $5,000 to more than $10,000. Of the 12 new cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year, 11 were priced above $100,000 annually. Yet only three were found to improve patient survival rates and, of these, two increased survival by less than two months.

All this shows little or no correlation between drug efficacy and “just price.” Medical bills have become the major cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, which is not surprising, given the amounts that even well- insured patients have to pay for drugs. Those that cost more than $100,000 can command a quarter to a third of some households’ annual income.

… Is it fair that some U.S. drug prices are two to four times the price of the same product in other countries? U.S. drug manufacturers are also allowed to pay the makers of generic drugs to keep their cheaper versions off the market for some months. Known as “pay to delay,” this strategy greatly affects profits: Earlier introduction of generic drugs has reduced health-care spending by more than $1 trillion in the past 10 years, Ralph Neas, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, estimated last fall.

… And how do we reduce the price of cancer drugs? We can start by eliminating self-inflicted wounds: Medicare should be allowed to negotiate prices as the VA system does — and as Medicare was able to do before 2003 — and pay-for-delay strategies should be outlawed. Regulations on cancer research that add to costs without increasing patient safety should be curtailed. Regulators and investigators alike should demand that new drugs offer true clinical improvement over current drugs, measured by such standards as cost-efficacy ratios, prolonging of life in years or quality-adjusted life in years, not just efficacy, safety and other “me-too” criteria. (Read the rest here.) 

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  • Will J

    Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, I do not see agreement to resolve the problems.

  • neenergyobserver

    Yep, I agree, although I’m not sure how we solve it. It seems the problem got completely out of control because of the benefit plans that covered medicine (hospital and doctor too). It looks to me that once the consumer wasn’t the payor, in other words once the corporatist insurance companies were paying the corporatist big pharma, without regard to the consumer, it all got out of hand with little control from anybody, least of all the politicians who wanted the money the favors provided. How do we go back to the 950s model?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Maybe we need to stop electing these corrupt jerks. :-)

  • Theodore Seeber

    I still would like to see the automatic response to any drug company overcharging be loss of patent and government- run generics factories for the poor.

    My migraine meds, when they went off patent, immediately lowered to 10% of the previous cost.

  • EMS

    It doesn’t even need to be your medical bills that can drive people to bankruptcy. I had to care for my disabled parents my last year of work before I retired and had to borrow tons of money so we could pay the mortgage, buy food, pay for utilites, etc., since there was no help available to us to pay for a caregiver so I could work. I lost my entire 401(k) caring for them and finally had to sell the house to finish paying off the costs of caring for them. Re the drug costs, what cost us the most was the damn donut hole for drug costs as 3 of their meds were not generic (no generics available for them) and cost roughly $500/month after the insurance copays. Thank God we had Kaiser, which is a nonprofit, and wasn’t soaking us as other insurance companies do.

  • Theodore Seeber

    The 950s model? Wasn’t that the alchemist working alone on his own knowledge?

  • pagansister

    Guess we all hope that we don’t get a serious illness. Sometimes it might be easier financially if we just died from our possible fatal disease instead of fighting it.

  • Mike

    Maybe the solution is to stop taking as many drugs. I know sounds flippant, but maybe we’re medicating ourselves too much. Maybe sometimes it really is our time. I know of one person who was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and instead of spending what time he had left with his family spent $300,000 chasing a cure in some expensive clinic in Arizona. He died and in the process cost his family their life’s savings. Sorry if this sounds crude, but maybe we’re kind of actually rewarding the drug companies by buying their promises?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Mike, you are addressing a real problem, but it’s separate from the problem of price gouging the consumer due to laws created by corrupt politicians. Over-medicating is one thing. This is another.

  • Theodore Seeber

    In a thread on slashdot, I just remarked how the big fallacy of capitalism was the tendency to artificially match supply to demand for maximum profit causing scarcity where none naturally existed.

    It occurs to me that this is an even better example than subsidized agriculture.

  • FW Ken

    I was just reading that the president of the United States addressed a Planned Parenthood convention, gliding over the Gosnell debacle, the chop shop in Delaware, and the PP lobbyist admitting to support for infanticide in Florida. I expect all of that. The part relevant here is the claim that PP donated $15 million to the president’s re-election campaign. Don’t they get tax funding? Wouldn’t that be corruption, if its true?

    Wait! Thank you, Mr. Google, it spears to be at least partly true:

  • Fabio P.Barbieri

    I am a poor man, fitfully self-employed and keeping out of debt by some sort of continued miracle. But I have on at least three occasions contributed money to Americans, both friends and strangers, who were in grave distress thanks to medical bills and insurance defaults. I was and remain simply revolted that a civilized country would force a citizen to beg from strangers at the time in their lives when they need the most support and ought to be able to count on the results of their own work. Every time I hear an American conservative spitting and foaming at the mouth about “death panels” and “socialized medicine”, I feel like screaming.

    The case that really made me decide never again to be silent on this issue – even though, as a natural conservative, it means I will argue with all my American friends and some misguided Britons – was that of Dave Cockrum. David Emmett Cockrum, an Army brat grown on a succession of US Army bases on a diet of superhero comics, who grew up to become a talented and popular cartoonist. There is no underrating the pleasure that Mr.Cockrum’s witty and vigorous superhero comics gave to a generation of readers and fans. He was also a particularly good costume designer, and he co-created and designed the new X-Men characters in the early seventies, and drew, and occasionally wrote, dozens of their stories. Understand? He designed and helped establish characters whose design alone has since proved worth hundreds of millions of dollars in movie and franchise rights.

    A few years ago, Mr.Cockrum, this good American citizen who had worked all his life, who had given his readers nothing but pleasure, whose work is still being reprinted and syndicated, and who produced properties that continue to generate mountains of money, was struck down by a murderous combination of diabetes and pneumonia.

    Yes. You guessed it. He had to beg in public for support as he lay dying.

    Mr.Cockrum was widely popular among his colleagues, who quickly collected $40,000 for him, and shamed Marvel Comics into making an undisclosed ex gratia payment. That was good. But a man like that should not have spent the last days of his life (alas, he did not recover) begging from strangers. And there are worse cases. If you want to see utter horror in real life, look up a cartoonist called Bill Mantlo; his case is too dreadful for me to repeat it.

    How Americans can possibly put up with their hideous disgrace of a system, I can’t imagine; except perhaps that they don’t know the difference.