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Let’s make medicines a public good again

Written by Diane Archer

Fran Quigley writes for The Other 98 percent that it is time to make medicines a public good again. He explains that it is only recently that we began treating medicines as a commodity that could be priced at any level and kept from people who needed it. Throughout most of history it would have been “immoral and illegal” to impede access to medicines by making them unaffordable.

How is it that we now assume that medicines should be developed, distributed and marketed by profit-driven corporations and that these corporations should have monopolies to charge what they will for them?  We have created a system in which people suffer and die because they can’t afford their medicines. Are we prepared to let these people die?

Patents are the problem, along with the pharmaceutical corporations that own them. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that a large number of countries began giving individuals and corporations patent protections. These patent protections combined with people’s critical need for life-saving and life-improving medicines have delivered larger profits to pharmaceutical companies than any other industry in the world.

Today, thousands of lobbyists spend tens of millions of dollars telling policymakers and the public that they need to make huge profits to develop new medicines. They want to ensure that policymakers do not once again insist that medicines are a public good. And, they are winning, internationally and domestically, nationally and at the state level.

What is particularly galling is that taxpayer dollars are paying for a big chunk of the discoveries. Indeed, in the six years between 2010 and 2016, all 210 new drugs approved by the FDA were developed with taxpayer dollars. Drug companies spend more on marketing than on research. And, a big chunk of our taxpayer dollars is going to CEO salaries, lobbying and campaign contributions, not to drug development.

Poll after poll show that most people see a big difference between TVs and other commodities, which are patented, and medicines. Unlike medicines, we can go without those products without risk to our health and well-being. We should be treating medicines as a public good not as a commodity.

It does not have to be this way. If Congress stepped in and allowed negotiated drug pricing, the money we saved would more than pay for all the research currently undertaken and allow us to target research money on needed medicines. Pharmaceutical companies dedicate a lot of their research dollars to me-too prescription drugs and spinoffs of branded products that do not contribute in any meaningful way to the public good. Rather, these drugs may extend the patent life of a prescription drug or prevent the development of generic alternatives and increase Pharma profits.

Taking a step back to the past in order to move forward and treating prescription drugs as a public good is not unheard of. We did it with the AIDs drugs. It is time we do it for all prescription drugs.

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