Fighting Big Pharma’s Excessive Drug Prices

By NEAL FRUMKIN
The costs of prescription drugs are too damn high, forcing working families and retirees to choose between food, rent and life-sustaining medication.

That was the opening line of a resolution submitted by Edward W. Hysyk, president of the Retirees Association of DC 37, Juan Fernandez, president of Amalgamated Professional Employees Local 154 and myself, at the July convention of our national union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The resolution passed with the support of the 3,000 delegates at the convention in Boston.

Our goal was to build a campaign against the outrageous ongoing cost increases faced by members of the Retiree Association of DC 37.

The theme of the convention was “RiseUp.” I believe that DC 37 along with its labor and community partners should rise up and build a campaign against the criminal costs of prescription drugs.

Today, the pharmaceutical companies can and often do raise prices simply to make more profits — not to cover research costs, which the industry claims drives prices.

A glaring example was when Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of its generic drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. That was a 5,000 percent increase. CEO Martin Shkreli was forced to resign as a result of the outcry that followed, but the price increase remains in force.

Other life-saving drugs, including the Epipen, have seen a price increases from $100 to $600 that were not at all related to production costs.

New life-saving drugs — like those that treat Hepatitis C — have come to the market with a price tag as high as $84,000. It’s not unusual that new specialty drugs coming to market offer life-saving cures, but hey cost tens of thousands of dollars.

The pharmaceutical industry would have us believe that high prices are due to the costs of research and development.

Yet a York University study in 2008 showed that drug companies spent about 13.4 percent of their budgets on R&D while they spent almost twice as much on advertising and marketing.

Meanwhile, corporate chiefs are way overcompensated.

In 2017, CEO Ian Read of Pfizer, was paid $26.2 million, CEO Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson made $22.8 million, and Abbott’s CEO Miles White earned $15.6 million, according to salary.com.

Drug prices are thus related to greed for revenues, profits and marketing costs with a disregard for the well-being of consumers and their medical needs. A system where people can’t afford necessary and often life-saving medicines doesn’t deserve to exist!

According to Prescription Justice, on Feb 6, 2017, 45 million people did not fill one or more of their drug prescriptions due to costs. Sixty-five percent of all bankruptcies in the United States are caused by medical — including prescription drug — costs.

Here at DC 37, our Health & Security Fund in 2017 had to offer drug coverage to our members with a more restrictive formulary and higher member costs because of ongoing outrageous drug price increases.

Although contract negotiations have included additional funding for our benefit funds, out-of-control increases in drug costs will further erode our coverage and force individual members to pay more for necessary medications if nothing is done. That is why members of the retiree association will be marching in this year’s Labor Day Parade with signs aimed building the fight against the outrageous costs of prescription drugs.

We are also building for a demonstration this fall with one of the pharmaceuticals as a target.

Will you join us?

Neal Frumkin is the associate vice president of inter-union relations of the DC 37 Retirees Association and a trustee of the DC 37 Health & Security Fund, which provides the DC 37 prescription drug benefit.

The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal employees in New York City. This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Public Employee Press.

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