Is Big Pharma in Trouble? Probably Not — Unless We Keep Up the Pressure

(TFC) – The world has a big government problem — it’s just not the one we expected. Take a look at a family tree of the world’s corporations — a tree whose branches reach ever outward and inward — and the influence they have over our lives and you see something remarkable: not just a “big government” but in fact the biggest one that has ever existed. The authoritarian nightmare we’ve all been screaming about for years has been here the whole time.

One of the most unforgivable ways “corporate culture” has consolidated power over our waking lives is their stranglehold over pharmaceuticals and general healthcare. Big Pharma, in particular, has been discovered with their hands in the cookie jar more times this calendar year than, seemingly, in several of the previous decades combined.

And it’s about time. There’s a place in the world for healthy competition. And by all means, people who do honest work — most particularly doctors, nurses, and scientists who develop life-saving medicines — all deserve to earn a comfortable living — but Big Pharma’s “woes” in recent months aren’t just bumps in the road: they’re the price we pay for letting public health commingle with profit-seeking.

The following may contain phrases like “single-payer healthcare,” “universal healthcare,” “Medicare for all” and even “socialized medicine.” They’re all the same thing: government, and therefore regular people, taking back ownership of our collective health and making those who safeguard it accountable once again.

What’s Big Pharma Been up to Lately?

The most attention-grabbing headlines about Big Pharma this year unquestionably belonged to Martin Shkreli — a man whose uniquely punchable face and forearm-length list of crimes have made him a poster child in the case for bringing Corporate America to heel in the name of public good.

Among other things, Shkreli is accused of scamming investors and literally stealing money and stocks from his pharmaceutical company. If what passes for Big Pharma’s conscience could take human form and walk around with a swagger and a smirk, it would look a lot like Martin.

The trouble, of course, is confusing the symptom with the disease. Yes — this man represents all of Big Pharma’s great and minor sins, but this has been going on for far longer than little Martin has been drawing breath.

Another recent Big Pharma debacle concerned a company called Gilead. The case against Gilead was recently reignited and with its allegations that the corporation had grossly misled industry regulators about the effectiveness of one of their flagship products. It has the makings of a watershed whistleblower case — but its prior dismissal by a federal district judge doesn’t inspire confidence in this new undertaking. The rules just don’t seem to apply to Big Pharma.

There are too many examples, really. Remember the EpiPen case? A recent case saw EpiPen’s primary manufacturer, Mylan, pay a $456 million settlement for making false claims. The company raised prices for their life-saving instruments by 400 percent but kept paying into Medicaid at the same rate as before.

This is stealing. “Socialized medicine” definitely is not. Socialized medicine is sharing a burden with our neighbors. It is keeping prices and risk low by keeping the pool of insured persons large.

And then there’s the unceasing march of consolidation, mergers, and takeovers. Pfizer wants Bristol-Myers. Everybody else wants to merge with everybody else. Wasn’t Capitalism supposed to be about competition? There are only two ways to keep prices low: a huge amount of competition or a huge amount of governmental and public oversight. Big Pharma wants neither. Most of the American public seems to share their sentiments.

But there’s never been a better moment than right now to push for real medicare-for-all, including more powers for government to negotiate for lower drug prices the way Canada and much of the UK already do. But most folks in America are still too busy quailing about the word “socialism” to take it — or its champions in government — seriously. When we’re not fighting staggering greed and manipulative propaganda, we have willful ignorance to worry about. It’s an impossible fight, it seems.

And it’s literally killing us. We all need to be losing sleep about the fact that more and more Americans are “priced out of” healthcare on an annual basis. It’s been happening since at least the 1970s — and none of the other developed nations have seen the same spikes, since most of them have chosen the sensible path: leavening the profiteering of Big Pharma and Big Healthcare with a healthy dose of regulation, public oversight, and real input from real physicians who stand a far better chance of understanding public health than any of the world’s congresses.

Healthcare costs don’t spiral out of control and leave Americans dead for want of basic care because the federal government deigns — dares! — to interfere in healthcare. Prices spiral because rich folks have been gambling with the health of poor and middle-income Americans for generations and running the healthcare industry like a private country club for longer than some of us have been alive.

That’s the size of what we’re up against.

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So What Can We Do About This Garbage?

It’s a good question, since so much of the above paints an extremely bleak picture of the present and future of Big Pharma and Big Healthcare in America. But one thing we can do collectively is draw a hard line in the sand and accept zero compromises. Lukewarm or literally duplicitous “liberals” like Cory Booker have no place at the bargaining table where medicine is concerned and have lost their credibility as progressives.

Government is absolutely the only institution in America with any potential sway over how massive corporations are run — and our hold on even that little bit of control is tenuous to nonexistent, depending on whom you ask. Jimmy Carter says democracy is already dead in America, so what chance does it possibly have of touching Big Pharma in a real way?

Look for real leaders who speak to real problems — and right now there are few problems more urgent than the unequal distribution of medicine and healthcare in what is supposed to be the greatest and most powerful nation on earth.