Thursday, June 22, 2006

Drug Companies Endanger Lives For Money

It seems like a day doesn’t go by when a news item appears that shows how the pharmaceutical industry is cooking up new ways to increase their profits by screwing their customers. The latest bit of chicanery will probably go largely unnoticed except by those consumers who are directly affected by the increased costs for their prescriptions.

It's a novel approach in the long battle between brand-name drugs and their generic rivals: Merck & Co. is slashing the price of its cholesterol drug Zocor so low for one insurance plan that members will actually pay less for the original pills than for the generic.

Some consumer advocates fear that the practice will spark a movement among pharmaceutical companies, compounding other pressures they fear will weaken the generic industry and compromise the country's source of low-cost drugs.—AP-L.A. Times 6/21/06

In a convoluted, murky system of patents and lawsuits, cheap generic versions of expensive drugs whose patents have expired are allowed a six-month exclusive release on the market without competition. Merck has initiated a possible precedent which will hamper the generic manufacturers from being able to continue to compete at the lowers prices, thus ultimately gouging the consumer pocketbook to enrich the big pharma giants.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Merck of engaging in predatory pricing and called its actions "a legal bribe." He has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the deal between Merck and UnitedHealth. "Merck is taking an end run around the generic drugs laws to make sure there are no generic drugs," Schumer said. AP-L.A. Times 6/21/06

As usual, in the big pharma bully-ploy of shoulder-shrugging as if there were no knowledge of anything up it’s sleeve, Merck reps plead ignorance:

Merck's vice president of public policy, Ian Spatz, said the arrangement with UnitedHealth was nothing more than typical marketplace price competition.

… Federal agencies are already examining whether other drug company practices are hurting consumers' access to generic drugs. The FTC is examining whether brand-name manufacturers are muting competition by authorizing generic versions of their own drugs to coincide with the launch of a rival generic.--AP-L.A. Times 6/21/06

Hopeful rhetoric, and our vigilance is a needed added ingredient to our
protection from bullies. After all, if we can't afford the drugs we need, it endangers our health.

Next time you see a TV commercial or read a magazine ad extolling the wonders of modern patented medicine, remember that curing human ills was not the incentive behind its development. ‘Twas greed, pure and simple.

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