Keeping it Real…

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Time to Control/Regulate Rx Drug PROFITS!

November 20th, 2017 · 22 Comments

It’s unfortunate, but increasingly true: pharmaceutical companies with patents or a cornered market on prescription drugs are demanding outrageous prices for their products … well beyond reasonable profit levels and also beyond not only individual consumers’ ability to pay, but that of governments as well.

It’s time … in return for those MONOPOLIES given them under legislation … for them to defend the prices they then charge, to prove they are not GOUGING for extortion-level profits.

Take the case of Lilia Zaharieva, the 30-year-old University of Victoria student who suffers from the debilitating, and even life-threatening effects of cystic fibrosis.

Lilia had been taking, among other medications, a new drug Orkambi developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which she swears has substantially helped her fight off her disease. And without it, she believes she will face total lung failure within two years.

But the drug costs $250,000 a year … and Lilia has now  run out of coverage under her private insurance plan, and the drug is NOT covered under BC Pharmacare and Health Minister Adrian Dix has refused to budge.

“Orkambi was reviewed by Canada’s Common Drug Review board and the Drug Benefit Council, Dix said, both of which recommended that the drug not be funded by PharmaCare programs across the country. This is because the two expert bodies were not given sufficient evidence to support Orkambi’s therapeutic benefits. “So it’s a difficult situation, but we get advice from experts in the field and their expert advice was followed by [former health minister] Terry Lake who, in March, decided against listing this drug in B.C.”, reported the Victoria Times-Colonist.

Who could not sympathize, empathize and want to help Lilia ???

But how much can any public health/Pharmacare plan shell out for a single drug to help a single patient?

Compassion might say there should be no limit … but let’s keep it real: there are more than 4,000 Canadians suffering from the disease … and hundreds of millions of dollars are already spent on other medications treating CF … not including more than $150 million already devoted on research etc.

How much can society pay? Is there ANY limit?

I have no idea how much it cost Vertex to research, develop, test and put and maintain Orkambi on the market … but if it is protected by patent and they charge $250,000 a year per patient, they should have to justify that price … and profit level.

If we DO cover the $250,000 annual cost of this drug/treatment for Lilia, what about other CF patients … and what about those suffering from other life-threatening diseases/maladies who also want or believe in other hugely expensive drugs that have NOT yet convinced regulating medical experts of their efficacy … or even those with proven success?

We all recall the infamous Martin Shkreli, whose firm acquired the rights and then raised the price of a long-existing but rare medication to treat life-threatening parasites from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight. The huge public outcry reduced the price somewhat … but this was not the only case like that.

“Cycloserine, a drug used to treat dangerous multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, was just increased in price to $10,800 for 30 pills from $500 after its acquisition by Rodelis Therapeutics. Scott Spencer, general manager of Rodelis, said the company needed to invest to make sure the supply of the drug remained reliable. He said the company provided the drug free to certain needy patients,” the New York Times reported at the time.

“In August, two members of Congress investigating generic drug price increases wrote to Valeant Pharmaceuticals after that company acquired two heart drugs, Isuprel and Nitropress, from Marathon Pharmaceuticals and promptly raised their prices by 525 percent and 212 percent respectively. Marathon had acquired the drugs from another company in 2013 and had quintupled their prices ….”

(The last I saw, Vertex denied Lilia’s compassionate care appeal to cover the drug cost in her case.)

It all raises horrible, difficult questions and issues.

And I believe one way the federal government CAN act, and would enjoy public support, is by forcing pharmaceutical companies granted MONOPOLY patent protection for 15 years (used to be 10 years, but if I recall correctly, under Prime minister Mulroney’s Conservative government the patent period was extended to 15 years) to EXPLAIN/DEFEND their PROFIT margins on monopoly-protected drugs.

Of course, the cost of new drugs goes well beyond just production: some take years to research and can cost billions to develop/test etc.

Understandable.  BUT in return for such generous monopolies/write-offs/profits,  pharmaceutical companies should be willing/able to explain/defend their costs, prices … AND PROFIT MARGINS … to a non-political panel of medical, scientific experts and economists.

It’s clear that some are incapable ..or unwilling … to fairly police themselves.

And any company that charges $250,000 a year for a product for which WE gave them ANY patent/monopoly protection should be happy …okay, let’s settle for willing … to defend their pricing and profit margin in public..

Harv Oberfeld

(This is one we CAN take action on!  If you would like to take up this cause and issue, you can write to the various ministers involved:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: pm@pm.gc.ca

Federal Health Minister Ginette Taylor: hcminister.ministresc@canada.ca

Premier John Horgan: premier@gov.bc.ca

BC Health Minister Adrian Dix: HLTH.health@gov.bc.ca

Feel free to copy/paste the URL for this blog piece ….   http://harveyoberfeld.ca/blog/time-to-controlregulate-rx-drug-profits/  as a reference/recommendation they should follow up.

And pass it on …ask others you know to take up the call)

→ 22 CommentsTags: British Columbia · International · National

Site C SHOULD Be Completed

November 13th, 2017 · 87 Comments

WAC Bennett … to those whose political/historical knowledge goes that far back … was an iconic BC leader … still remembered by most MORE for his accomplishments than his blemishes.

“ Bennett advocated in 1955 for a universal medical, dental, hospital, and pharmaceutical insurance coverage.  Universal, publicly funded medical and hospital insurance was introduced as part of the federal government’s creation of what became known as Medicare”, reminds Wikipedia.

And Bennett introduced a provincial sales tax to raise money to pay for it.

That was YEARS before Saskatchewan Premier tommy Douglas introduced the actual legislation to make public health care a reality in 1962.

That was truly bold and imaginative at that time.

But Bennett is better remembered for a greater legacy: BC-owned and BC developed HUGE hydro power projects … including the Columbia and Peace River dams that …. for generations… have brought British Columbian homes and industries enormous amounts of electricity … cheaper than anywhere else in North America.

And the LEGACY of Bennett’s bold moves … no doubt opposed, chastised and condemned by hordes of political opponents, anti-development  naysayers … also have brought BC BILLIONS of dollars in revenues to fund public programs.

And, much to the chagrin of his political foes, Bennett went on to win SEVEN consecutive elections … a feat so far never again repeated by any party/leader in BC.

History has been kinder to WAC’s vision and Hydro development strategies than his opponents at the time.

In fact, I dare say many of those who have opposed/protested Site C have benefitted greatly from WAC’s Hydro mega-project dams … and so have many of their parents, grandparents .. . even kids. Lucky for them, and for the rest of us,  he did not yield to the pressures/protestors back then.

Hydro power construction projects enriched MANY BC communities; helped fund so much of the province’s infrastructure development; pay for new post-secondary institutions and universities; and brought BC BILLIONS in export revenues.

Site C can do the same.

Yes, its development was mishandled; yes, its construction costs are higher than expected (aren’t ALL major projects?); yes, there are new developments in alternative energy production that should be pursued and even encouraged.

But let’s keep it real.

Despite all the MODERN   hordes of political opponents, anti-development  naysayers … Site C will not go to waste: over the long-term it too will bring the province huge amounts of electric power needed for future development, billions in revenues from domestic and export power sales.

And let’s face it, by delaying the project for a few years or a decade, until really needed to expand BC industries and economy, costs will not go down.

Despite all the LOUD sound and fury coming from those who oppose it, a recent Angus Reid poll showed ONLY 27% of British Columbians want Site C canceled: 45% said it should Go ahead; 28% were unsure … not a rational reason for a government to stop ANY major project and send thousands of well-employed and well-paid workers packing..

Site C  SHOULD go ahead.

It may indeed prove to be LAST major hydro project in BC … but, despite the costs,  future generations decades from will benefit from the HUGE volumes of power produced.. and the revenues from their sales.

My only caveat: the provincial government should … and I’m sure can … use some of those additional revenues they told us BC will gain from their fine stewardship of our economy to mitigate current and future Hydro consumer costs to pay for completion of the project.

Site C will provide Premier John Horgan and his NDP government a success and legacy that will bring BC benefits well after their term of office …be it ONE or SEVEN like WAC … have become part of the province’s history.

Harv Oberfeld

→ 87 CommentsTags: British Columbia · National