Andrew Pollack, writing in the The New York Times, discusses the latest get rich quick scheme: buy a life-saving drug with patent protection (or only one producer) and demand an astronomical price. Those suffering from the disease and those trying to help them are forced to give in or give up. The price of pyrimethamine, sold as Daraprim, recently increased in price from $13.50 to $750.00 per tablet. Primarily used for treating the toxoplasmosis parasite, pyrimethamine is also used in concert with sulfadoxine to treat malaria that is resistant to chloroquine.
The price gouging has been widely condemned. Patients who desperately need drugs, may be forced to go without or accept a less effective treatment. Many times, the drugs are grudgingly purchased by insurance, governments or NGOs. Price gouging drives up the cost of insurance for everyone and may raise insurance to a price that is unaffordable. Workers get smaller paychecks as employers increase insurance payments. In the US insurance (Obamacare) is subsidized for those with low income and Medicaid and Medicare are paid by state and federal governments from tax collections. This makes taxes increase or reduces money spent elsewhere. NGOs purchase drugs to treat malaria and other diseases in poor countries. Charging outrageous prices for drugs takes money away from programs designed to help people and reduce the incidence of diseases. Every extra dollar that an NGO pays for drug price gouging is one less dollar that could go to purchase bed nets or other malaria prevention items.
Why does this greed continue when it has adverse effects on many human lives? Partly, the people behind the price gouging are wealthy and politically connected. They use their wealth and power to protect their lucrative but unethical business practices. Businesses that gouge to a lesser extent worry that their own profits might be at risk and join the lobbying effort. The people who need the drugs often cannot afford to lobby and are not numerous enough to demand fair treatment. The current drug regulation policy is broken and will only change when enough fair-minded people express outrage and demand better policy.