Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The pharmaceutical money train

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 11:23 AM

Yesterday, on NPR, I heard a news piece about a pharmaceutical company, Merck, trying to convince governments and parents that young men need a $130 shot to prevent the human papilloma virus (aka HPV). Scientists say the boys don't need it, but the pharmaceutical company thinks they should get it anyway -- just to be sure.

Something to note: At no time did anyone from the pharmaceutical company say, "This is important. If your government orders in bulk, our costs will go down, so, here's what we'll do: We'll give you a price break. And, that's not all, if you buy now, we'll cut the price by half because the young men of the world really, really, really, really need this vaccine."

No, they didn't do that. The vaccine isn't that important for young men and, if they want the drug individually, they can always buy it on their own.

But, as good business people with shareholders to feed, guess they owe it to themselves to try to sign up a client that could potentially buy millions of doses. (In case you can't do math in your head: 10 million doses multiplied by $130 equals $1,300,000,000. Oh, and you need three of them.)

I turned off the radio thinking, "What a racket." The vaccine, by the way, is recommended for girls by the time they reach 11. ELEVEN. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. Good work, pharmaceutical companies. Way to lock down a market.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest numbers -- which aren't very current -- we're talking roughly 30 million girls. In other words, $11.7 billion worth of $130 shots for one vaccine.

Then, today, I read that the state of North Carolina just won a $3.5 million settlement from four drug makers who have been scamming Medicaid.

Pffft. What do these companies care about a paltry few million dollars, split four ways? Probably not much. That's one corporate retreat in Utah, one CEO bonus. That's not appropriate punishment for defrauding our government.

Meanwhile, be sure to take your pills today. I'm sure you really, really, really, really need them all. Your doctor said so, right? (Next time ask them how much money they get for your prescription from the pharmaceutical companies.)

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