It’s Really Hard Not to Hate the Pharmaceutical Industry


Another day, another drug. Today comes news of Nitropress, a generic blood pressure drug that was priced at $44 per vial way back in 2013. Then it was sold to Marathon Pharmaceuticals, which raised the price to $257. A few months ago it was sold yet again, this time to Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which raised the price to $806. But no worries! According to a spokesman, no one will ever be denied this medication:

“These are drugs that are only used by hospitals — they are not sold in pharmacies — in accordance with specific surgical procedures. This means that whenever the protocol calls for use of these drugs, they are used. Patients are never denied these drugs when the protocols call for their use.”

And there you have it. Hospitals have to use it, and no one else makes it, so Valeant can charge whatever they want. Satisfied?

Anyway, Democrats are “demanding answers” from Valeant, which will probably do about as much good as it did when they demanded answers from Marathon last year about their price increase. Or all the other companies they’ve demanded answers from ever since 10x price increases became the pharmaceutical industry’s favorite new sport. That is to say, none.

It’s a funny thing. I’ve probably read just about every reason in the book explaining why national health care is supposed to be a terrible idea. Most of these reasons are pretty lousy—either unsupported by the evidence or else directly contradicted by it. But there’s one exception: the argument that a national health care plan would drive down the price of drugs—as it has everywhere else in the world—and this would stifle innovation in the pharmaceutical biz. There’s some real merit to this claim.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, and it would take a longish post to go through this topic in detail. Nonetheless, you can put me in the camp of those who want to tread pretty carefully when it comes to regulating pharmaceutical pricing. But these guys are sure making it hard to maintain that position, aren’t they?