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Free Medicines, Like 5 Other Countries

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Chile, India, Sri Lanka, and Burma give their people free medicines, even very expensive cancer medicines.

Chile and Brazil give their citizens HIV medicines for free.

New Zealand charges its citizens only $5 for medicines, up to 20 prescriptions per year per family.  After this, if you need any more medicine, it is free.

Sweden caps all medicine costs at $220 a year.  Norway caps all medicine costs at $260 a year.

England, France, and Germany have laws that protect chronically ill people so they don’t have problems affording their medicines.

The True Cost of Medicines & Developing Them

Most drugs are incredibly cheap to manufacture.

  • For example, Americans pay about $3,000 a month for HIV medicines.
  • Charitable foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation get HIV medicines from generic manufacturing companies for only 20 cents a day!
  • Because these medicines are so cheap, rates of HIV treatment are 3 times higher in rural Uganda, Kenya, and Botswana in Africa than in black Americans!

Drug companies claim they need patents and high prices because of the cost of drug research.  They often claim developing a new medicine costs between $1 and $2.5 billion.

Many experts dispute these numbers.

  • GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO Sir Andrew Witty called the $1 billion figure “one of the great myths of the industry.”
  • The British Medical Journal (BMJ) estimates the cost of new drug development is $60 million or less.
  • BMJ estimates only 1.3% of pharmaceutical company revenues goes to discovering new molecules while 25% goes to promotion.
  • Doctors Without Borders and several other medical organizations estimate the cost of new medicines, including failed attempts, to be only $60 to $186 million.
  • They say building new medicines by tweaking older ones likely only costs $10 to $40 million.
  • Doctors Without Borders has first-hand experience, having developed a number of new drugs and treatments, helping hundreds of millions of people.
  • The organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases, too, created 6 new treatments and a solid drug development pipeline with a budget of just $171.7 million.

Profiting from Medicines Is Foolish & Dangerous

We’ve already seen how depending on profit-driven private drug companies leaves us very vulnerable to deadly side effects they hide.

It also leaves us vulnerable to many diseases, including catastrophic ones.

  • Pharmaceutical companies have no interest in treating diseases like AIDS, Ebola, or Zika until after they spread into rich countries, far too late.
  • A promising Ebola vaccine actually sat on a shelf for 10 years before the large outbreak in 2014 led to its use and more research.
  • For-profit drug companies won’t develop new antibiotics for the growing problem of dangerous resistant bacteria because short, quick cures aren’t profitable enough.
  • Drug companies haven’t introduced any new classes of antibiotics in over 30 years.
  • Already, drug-resistant germs sicken 3 million Americans each year and kill about 35,000. So every 15 seconds, someone in the US dies of a superbug.
  • Experts predict that by 2050, up to 10 million people will die each year from drug-resistant infections.
  • Drug companies won’t test promising new uses for cheap, old medicines because they can’t make big profits on them.
  • They won’t develop desperately needed medicines or diagnostic tools if they don’t see big profits from them.
  • For example, they won’t even make and stockpile enough antivenom medicines for snake bites, just because they don’t see enough profits.

For-profit drug companies won’t test medicines against each other, so doctors can’t know which medicines are the most effective.  Instead, they just test them against placebos.

They also keep research secret, which often leads to duplication of efforts.

Partial Solutions

We must change our laws and let our government, the largest buyer of medicines in the world, negotiate prices for medicines.

We should crack down on the widespread abuse of our patent system.

We should import medicines from countries with the same quality control but far cheaper medicines.

  • We already get 25% or more of drugs labeled “made in America” from factories in other countries inspected by our FDA.
  • We also get 80% of our active ingredients used in manufacturing medicines here here from factories in other countries inspected by our FDA.
  • We already import medicines from factories like this during shortages, so we know how to do this safely.
  • We should do this with all extortionist very highly priced medicines!

We should cap family out of pocket costs for medicines, like other countries do.

Our government should demand value from drug companies, like it does for doctors and hospitals.

We could require drug companies to reduce spending on marketing, lobbying, stock buybacks, shareholder profits and force them to reinvest in research.

Better Solutions

We could force companies to limit the price of medicines to reflect our taxpayer contributions to the basic research.

Our government could set prices for medicines, like it already does for doctors, hospitals, home health care services, and CT and MRI scans.

  • We could determine those prices based on quality of life improvements from the medicines.

Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a helpful bill letting our government manufacture or contract the manufacture of generic medicines whenever:

  • no company makes a drug
  • when only one or two companies make a drug and its price has spiked
  • when there is a shortage of a medicine
  • when an essential medicine has limited competition and high prices

Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed four very helpful bills:

  • One would force companies to limit the price of medicines to reflect our taxpayer contributions to the basic research.
  • Another bill would eliminate patents and give drug developers $80 billion in prizes each year for real breakthrough medicines.
  • A third bill would let companies create generic medicines anytime a brand name drug costs more than the median price in Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, and Japan.
  • A fourth bill would buy out the patents of AIDS drugs for $3 billion each year, so our government could sell medicines at the cost of manufacturing them.
  • This would save vast amounts of money, because our government already pays for most AIDS treatments.

We could save an incredible amount of money by simply giving everyone with HIV free medicines because controlling HIV stops unprotected sex from spreading the virus.

  • In our country, 39,000 new HIV infections occur each year and experts estimate each one costs up to $326,000 long term.

Australia subscribes to Hepatitis C medicines, paying a flat fee over a set number of years to get it for all who need it.

  • This arrangement gives both the country and the drug company financial certainty.
  • Louisiana is working on a subscription deal for Hepatitis C medicine.

Why don’t we keep some percentage of rights to medicines our government funded, like Israel and Finland do?

Our government already has the authority to eliminate existing patents on medicines developed with government funding.

  • Trump has sued Gilead Sciences for ignoring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention patents on preventing HIV with Truvada.
  • Gilead made billions of dollars on Truvada for prevention, which was developed with government money.

The 1980 Bayh-Dole Act lets companies patent publicly funded research to bring it to market.  But this same law allows us to limit the prices with caps.

Yet we’ve never once capped the price of any medicine!

Our laws allow our government to seize a patent for the public good.  It just requires us to pay reasonable compensation.  We did this in the early 1970s to get cheap medicines for our troops in Vietnam.

  • This is the basis for Bernie Sanders proposing that our government buy out patents.
  • Elizabeth Warren proposes our government declare public health emergencies and manufacture insulin, Epipens, antibiotics, and medicines for hepatitis C, HIV, and opioid overdoses.

And our government can issue a “compulsory license,” allowing other companies to sell a medicine during a shortage or to sell an overpriced medicine at a cheaper cost.

  • Other countries often do this.
  • For example, India used a compulsory license to lower a cancer medicine from over $5000 a month to $157.
  • Unfortunately, no US president has ever used this compulsory license authority.

Public Funding for Medicines

Patents are a system of legal monopolies that cause all kinds of problems.

  • They kill millions of poor people around the world by protecting high profits for pharmaceutical companies.
  • An estimated 10 million people die worldwide each year for lack of medicines.
  • High pharmaceutical profits also result in a dangerous market of fake and poor-quality medicines that kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
  • If we had a free market for medicines, like most other businesses in the US, medicines would be far cheaper.
  • Patents also give drug companies great incentives to cheat, and then we learn about dangerous side effects only during lawsuits after far too many deaths.

Large pharmaceutical companies are the most profitable companies in the world, yet they don’t even bother working on new breakthroughs much anymore.

  • The truly important new medicines mostly come from research at the National Institute of Health, universities, or small biotechnology companies.

Why are we paying for basic research to develop medicines then letting pharmaceutical companies cheat us?

Surely our government should at least run the clinical trials testing the drugs, where the worst pharmaceutical abuses occur.

Then we could simply keep the rights to these medicines and give them out for free.

Public funding of all drug research would make medicines vastly cheaper and safer.  Sharing research would also speed up drug development.

Our government should simply hire drug researchers directly or contract with companies, paying for research in important areas while requiring transparency and the sharing of all results.

Or we could offer prizes for promising new medicines and buy up the rights to them.

Free Medicines for World Peace

All governments worldwide should work together through the United Nations and the World Health Organization to develop medicines cheaply.

Sharing research worldwide would best speed drug development.

This would be a wonderful first step toward peace and prosperity.

As detailed in our article on Peace, clean water, free medicines, and food would bring world peace far cheaper and far more effectively than wasting $700 billion each year on all our bombs, drones, and military spending.

Medicines should be a human right, not a luxury only for people who can afford them.

The two men who invented the polio vaccines never patented them—they donated them to humanity.

This is the wise, loving policy the world desperately needs.

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