All six still in the 2016 race want to sound like reformers, but what would each of them reform?
At this time in election season, candidates scamper and flutter around the nation, ramping up their promises and trying to cover every possible concern among the citizenry. By turns comical and sad!
After the Big Pharma PR disaster that was the whole of 2015 – arrests of executives, widespread insurance billing irregularities, 5,000% price hikes on lifesaving meds, congressional hearings about said price-gouging – did the presidential candidates even have a choice as to whether they would weigh in publicly?
“Talk is cheap,” goes the succinct and durable adage. But presidential campaigns are not! So, while Hillary Clinton, for starters, has listed the pharmaceutical industry as an enemy she’s proud to have, she has accepted over $150,000 from drug companies. With enemies like that, who needs friends, right? Again, it’s funny and unsettling at the same time.
The former first lady and secretary of state isn’t the only one wagging a finger while holding a fistful of dollars. Marco Rubio accuses pharma of “pure profiteering” that will “bankrupt our system,” while banking over $50,000 from drug corporations, according to TheHill.com. He does blame a whole lot of the prescription drug problems on government regulation and what he perceives as a burdensome, prolonged process of FDA approval.
When it comes to the junior senator from Florida, no one seems to want to broach the issue of how speeding up the process might put patients at much greater risk of adverse effects. That may be too deep a question for the Touring Circus of Candidates 2016.
Which brings us to the ringmaster. The mere presence of the pharma sector on “The Donald”’s lips sent shivers of terror up and down Wall Street. Reuters published the nervous headline, “Trump drug cost comments raise new risks for pharma stocks.” Wall Street, with the bronze, anatomically correct, three-ton bull, ever charging headlong only 500 feet away, frightened of what President Donald might do! Three tons of bull… hmm… kind of reminds you of – okay, let’s not even “go there.”
Ted Cruz, who has graciously accepted a cool $95,000 (most among the Republican contenders), from drug companies, says he wants to reform the FDA by having it approve pharmaceuticals based on prior approval in other “trusted, developed” countries. Whenever the agency rejected a foreign-land-approved medication, congress could vote to override the rejection.
The idea of putting the approval of drugs, essentially, in the hands of politicians did bring out some voices of criticism. “It’s a bad idea all around,” said a prominent University of Pittsburgh pharmaceutical policy scholar, according to Stat magazine.
Then there are the two candidates who seem more concerned about the health of American patients than the health of Big Pharma stock prices. Bernie Sanders has spoken harshly about the greed that’s nearly synonymous with the industry. He rejected a $2,700 donation from Martin Shkreli, the indicted former CEO of hedge funds and pharmaceutical corporations. John Kasich has made it a point to repeat, every chance he gets, his call to overhaul and improve services available to mentally ill patients in America.
My novel, DEADLY PRESCRIPTION, conducts a fictionalized examination of the criminal world within the pharmaceutical industry. Available via pre-order now. Arrives mid-2016.