I went to the pharmacy the other day to pick up a prescription. Unfortunately, having had asthma most of my life, I need to take a daily puff of a drug that helps with it. It is made by GlaxoSmithKlein, a British Pharma outfit that also does big business in the United States. Judging from my personal experience, a massive amount of that business is pure, unadulterated profiteering.
So what is profiteering? It is “the act or activity of making an unreasonable profit on the sale of essential goods especially during times of emergency.” For anyone who needs an essential medication for their health, an emergency would be not having that drug.
What is an excess or unreasonable profit? At first this might seem to be a pretty subjective and hard to define datum. In the case of GlaxoSmithKlein (GSK), I can assure you it is pretty easy to demonstrate.
Back to my prescription. The co-pay for my medicine—an inhaled medication called Breo Elipta—was $97 for a 30-day supply. It is delivered in a specially designed system that measures out one puff per day. The cost without my very good insurance coverage would have been well over $400. So how do we know there is an excessive and unreasonable profit being generated by GSK?
Well it so happens that I was in South Africa in 2019 and needed to get a refill. In Commonwealth countries, the same formulation—with a slight dosage variation—is sold under the name Relvar Ellipta. Also made by GSK, it has the exact same specialized delivery system, one dose per day. Since my insurance was not going to work in South Africa I had to pay cash. The price? The Rand equivalent of $38.
There is no way GSK, which has a massive presence in Johannesburg, would be selling this product at a loss.
One can conclude the obvious that American customers are simply being ripped off. This is not the only medication GSK runs this scam with. Another example is another one of their asthma products, Advair. Again a specialized delivery system. The last time I purchased this one, the 30-day supply was almost $400 without insurance. I bought this over the counter at an open-air pharmacy in Tijuana, genuine product from GSK, same delivery system, but with a different name sticker. The price was $72—for a 60-day supply.
Calling the major pharma companies cartels is deliberate. Here’s the actual definition of cartel, “an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.” There is not much daylight between the pharma companies and the drug/gun thugs of Medellín or Sinaloa.
These “legal” drug cartels have taken advantage of the United States market for far too long and show no signs of changing course. They have built vast mechanisms to keep the flow of excess profits pouring into their coffers.
A great example is the company GoodRX. This is a company that actually makes no sense. It advertises major discounts for major drugs. But those discounts are actually a small percentage and could be chalked up as promotion costs. The real purpose of the company is to normalize price gouging. Making a person “feel good” with a 10 percent price reduction off a drug that is already 10 times the price of another country is just a scam.
We are simply being robbed. If this makes you feel outraged, good. We need some national outrage on this subject. Our pockets are being picked on a massive scale.
Let’s take a quick look at how big this rip-off really is. Let’s start with a relatively known number. There are approximately 25 million asthma sufferers in the United States. If just 10 percent of these people use Breo Elipta to help control their symptoms, based on the differential between the US cash price and South Africa’s, that comes to approximately $100 million per month in excess profits, or $1.2 billion annually. And this is based on an assumption of a 10-percent market share. That is just a look at one drug for asthma. Meanwhile, the price of insulin has been inflated to many hundreds of dollars per month. You get the idea.
When you hear about the vast “unworkability” of Medicare for All, or how it is some sort of a communist plot, etc., etc., realize that those arguments are there to protect the profit river of these cartels. There is a reason that out of all the industrialized countries in the world, we are the only one that can’t “figure out” universal healthcare. This is one of the key reasons.