Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli is taking a lap as the Internet’s most vilified personality, but his rude tweets and callous business decisions are serving a useful purpose.
Sky-high drug costs are now a front-and-center political issue.
It’s been simmering on the back burner for months. Several members of Congress, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, have sought information about seemingly arbitrary price hikes of prescription drugs.
Shkreli’s company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, made such a move, increasing the price of a drug that treats infections from $13.50 to $750 for a single tablet. Though Shkreli eventually said he would lower the price, his initial defiant response only turned up the heat.
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On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced a multi-faceted plan for lowering costs and helping consumers.
Some of her proposals are politically treacherous and could have unintended consequences. Capping out-of-pocket prescription expenses at $250 a month might shift costs onto insurers and policyholders. Mandating drugmakers to spend a set percentage of their profits on research and development could encourage wasteful spending.
But many of Clinton’s proposals are solid and have already been put forth by Sanders and others.
Drugmakers currently receive federal tax credits to advertise to consumers, resulting in relentless messaging and creating incentives for people to use medications they don’t need. Clinton correctly wants to eliminate the credits.
She also wants to end the ridiculous restriction that prevents the Medicare program from directly negotiating drug prices for its 40 million beneficiaries.
Other good ideas: Reduce the length of time a drug can remain on the market without competition and allow Americans to import lower-priced drugs from overseas.
The pharmaceutical industry has reacted to Clinton’s plan with its usual dire warning that more regulations would “turn back the clock on medical innovation.”
But drugmakers have plenty of incentives to continue with research and development. And left alone, they have been all too willing to gouge patients and drive up health care costs.
Democratic candidates are on point with this issue. Republican contenders who don’t like their proposals should come forward with their own.