Drug companies have been telling us that the reason prescription drugs cost so much is because the research and development required to create them is incredibly costly. Over the years they have managed not only to convince most Americans that this is true, but that it is also fair. Well, if Big Pharma was playing football, this would be considered one of the greatest misdirection plays of all time: the corporate version of the fumblerooski.
Tired of all the bad press, the lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has created a slick new ad campaign to improve the greedy image of the drug companies. This multi-million dollar public relations effort, inspired by an idealized Star Trek-style future, depicts Big Pharma as purely dedicated to helping mankind. Just take a look at this video:
Now that is obviously a beautiful and well-made commercial. As I am getting older myself, I appreciate the use of the classic Dylan Thomas poem that exhorts us to “rage against the dying of the light.” But I know a little bit about advertising, and that is emotional manipulation of the highest order. So let’s be clear, the pharmaceutical companies are driven by profit, not by what’s in the public interest. And that is the problem.
I believe that prescription drugs should be in the public domain and available to all Americans for only the cost of production. Recently I wrote about how Dr. Albert Sabin refused to profit from his polio vaccine. Perhaps the US Public Health Service should control the patents on all drugs created in this country. They could then cheaply license their use throughout the world. When it comes to healthcare, we should think about doing the right thing, not about making money.
How would this work? The big pharmaceutical companies could be split up into separate production and research and development arms. Drug production would be in the public domain, and R&D would still be for-profit. When a company develops a valuable drug, the federal government would buy the rights to it. It’s not unreasonable to think that an effective cancer-fighting drug might be worth ten billion dollars.
The point is: the deadlier the disease, the higher the value of the drug. Capitalism at its finest. The government could even push the process along by offering grants for unproven ideas. Individuals, universities, and small businesses could enter the market and develop drugs too. Smart, innovative people would be rewarded for their work, rather than having the entire system controlled by Big Pharma. When it comes to drug development and the profit motive, it’s time to think outside of the box.