Politicians are getting attention for discussing possible regulatory solutions to outrageous pharmaceutical price increases, but for some of us, drug pricing is personal, not theoretical.
I am HIV-positive and depend on affordable medications to live. Luckily, I am able to take part in a federal drug program that enables me to get my daily, life-saving medications at costs I can afford.
The 340B Drug Pricing Program was established more than 20 years ago and requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide significant discounts to providers serving low-income communities and those caring for cancer and HIV patients. It gives me access to a life-saving bottle of pills that would otherwise cost me an impossible $2,300 a month. In many respects, the program’s survival is directly tied to my own.
Unfortunately, 340B is under attack right now by drug manufacturers — a community known for putting their own considerable profits above all other concerns.
Drug manufacturers insist that prices are simply covering the high cost of research and development. This argument doesn’t quite pass a laugh test given astounding drug company profits, and evidence frequently points to drugs being marketed and sold for whatever the market of third-party payers (insurers, Medicaid and Medicare) will bear.
The individual has been left out of this critical debate. We are left feeling like the pawn in a game that we know full well involves billions of dollars. We watch and wait and hope while high-profile politicians go to battle — or team up with — big drug manufacturers. Some of these battles could change our lives, but our voices are barely audible when compared to the megaphone (lobbyists, advertising, sophisticated PR and consultant-led AstroTurf campaigns) that is so easy for drug manufacturers to afford.
The drug manufacturer’s expensive campaign against 340B (I guess there is some left after paying for research and development after all?) has taken attention away from their profits and instead focuses lawmakers on whether a program that works and doesn’t rely on taxpayer money should be reformed.
The fact is, the 340B program was created in a time of high prices to help shield safety-net providers and allow them to leverage scarce resources, such as at Ryan White Care services, and serve more patients.
Drug manufacturers have louder voices than I do, but I hope the politicians are listening closely to people like me when it comes to drug pricing, because we need programs like 340B more than ever.
AIDS activist and radio show host