Was He Punished for Drug Pricing? Look again.

Dear Group,

Remember Martin Shrkeli, the nasty, un-repentent founder and chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals? He was briefly infamous for jacking up the price of a tablet of Daraprim (an old antibiotic) from $13.50 to $750.00 overnight in 2015. Do you remember a sense of satisfaction when he was sentenced to prison for seven years? Did you think, well, he got what was coming to him for such a heinous act? Think again. He may have gotten what was coming to him, but he wasn’t sent to prison for an immoral price hike that put people’s lives at risk. He was put in prison for defrauding the investor class.

Think about that. In 2015 Daraprim (pyrimethamine) had been around for sixty-two years. As an ophthalmologist, I used Daraprim to treat a vision-threatening infection by a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Later, its main use was for treatment of AIDS patients with a life-threatening systemic infection with the same pathogen. In 2015 when Shrkeli hiked the price of Daraprim, Turing was the only manufacturer. Cost to produce a tablet? In India at the time a dose of pyrimethamine could be purchased for as little as $0.10. The price hike left patients (and their doctors) scrambling to find funding for vision-saving or even life-saving treatment. The money from the inflated prices went to Shrkeli and Turing’s stockholders. Some patients no doubt had to forego treatment. These were folks too sick to navigate the complex web of pharmacy insurance or lacking the wherewithal to smuggle the drug into the country, Such people are in no condition to mount a political campaign. In our system they can be allowed to suffer. Their collective voice is too quiet for a free market Republican to hear. 

It is a grim irony that Shkreli went to prison not for a price hike that fell on the vulnerable, likely blinding some and hastening the death of others. No, he went to prison for “defrauding investors in two failed hedge funds.” Such is our system, such is the fealty the Republican/Libertarians pay to the “free market.” There were dramatic hearings in 2015 in the Republican majority House…and no action whatsoever. 

What does Daraprim cost today in the United States? $746.18 per tablet at Costco according to a quick online search. In Canada? $1.38 per tablet is the highest price I could find.

Outraged yet? It would take only a minute to come up with numerous other examples of immorally priced drugs, each affecting a relatively small group of patients, patients who spend time struggling with health insurance companies for coverage of inflated drug prices, patients who go without essential medicines or take half doses because they simply can’t afford the price, patients who pay ridiculous insurance premiums in part because of the unconscionable prices drug companies are allowed to charge.  

If you take this issue to McMorris Rodgers’ local office, perhaps her staff (funded by your tax dollars-Member’s Representational Allowance) will help you find some compassionate program to help you pay the bill…or perhaps you can appeal to Go-Fund-Me. What you will NOT get from McMorris Rodgers is any action to rein in the cost of pharmaceuticals. You will not get a bill to encourage reimportation from Canada. You will not get legislation to allow Medicare/Medicaid to volume bargain with the drug companies on price. Those straightforward ideas are contradictory to Republican/Libertarian “free market” ideology. Never mind health care and drugs are not part of a free market.

While McMorris Rodgers remains in office and in a Republican majority remains in Congress there will be no relief. Voting her out won’t fix this right away, but it is a necessary beginning. Lisa Brown understands health care economics and will work toward rational drug pricing. Here is your chance to elect a Representative to get things started.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Please understand I am convinced of Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ fundamental desire to do good, but I fear she lacks the open mind, the education, and the mental bandwidth to deal with many issues. Her deep, unfounded faith the “free market” will solve all problems blinds her to circumstances where the market is not free. Drug prices and health care are cardinal examples.