Wente Watch

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Medical dilemmas

Wente writes about a cancer patient whose treatments are not covered by medicare, and is paying out of pocket.

Perhaps she wrote this as a way of boosting her own pet project, two-tier medicine. If so, she's undermined her case. For, of course, this is two-tier in action; the patient she describes is not forbidden from going outside the system for his care. And the results are not pretty. The patient is going into debt to save his life, just as is common in the United States.

Medicare should cover the cost of these treatments. But it is expensive to do so, and the Wente crowd would be the first to oppose a tax increase.

But why are the drugs so expensive in the first place? Wente carelessly assumes that this is due to the high costs of drug research and development. It is not.

The real reason is that there is no free market in pharmaceuticals. New drugs are under patent for twenty years, sometimes longer. The drug company has no competition. It is free to raise the price as high as it likes, and the patient must either find up to $3,000 a dose, or face sickness or even death.

Drug companies and their conservative apologists claim that they need these monopoly profits in order to fund research and development. This, however, does not explain why they spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research.

When patent protections are excessively generous, companies are taken off the treadmill of speeding new drugs to market as fast as possible before older patents expire. They are then free to squeeze blood money out of patients, pounding them with intense and sometimes misleading marketing, and footing them with the bill.

What research is done is distorted, with illnesses affecting a small number of people in rich countries getting more attention than deadly diseases that kill millions in poor countries.

Cutting patent protection down to ten years, from the current twenty or more, would almost certainly lower drug costs without hurting innovation. But Canada's hands are tied; largely at U.S. insistence, the 20-year protection is written into "free" trade agreements.

A misnomer if there ever was one; patent protection is a restriction on trade, not a freeing of it. Would Wente call for reopening the WTO and NAFTA to help out patients like these, and cut the costs faced by public health-care programs?

A true believer in free markets and lower taxes would say "yes". A partisan hack would say "no". Let's see what side Wente is on.


  • My issue is Zyprexa which is only FDA approved for schizophrenia (.5-1% of pop) and some bipolar (2% pop) and then an even smaller percentage of theses two groups.
    So how does Zyprexa get to be the 7th largest drug sale in the world?

    Eli Lilly is in deep trouble for using their drug reps to 'encourage' doctors to write zyprexa for non-FDA approved 'off label' uses.

    The drug causes increased diabetes risk,and medicare picks up all the expensive fallout.There are now 7 states (and counting) going after Lilly for fraud and restitution.

    Daniel Haszard

    By Anonymous Daniel Haszard, at November 16, 2006 10:15 a.m.  

  • I've become a big fan of the drug companies over the past few years - because I need them. Having said that, it drived me crazy how little they spend on R&D compared to marketing. One point that you seem to have missed is that the Government of Canada does control the price of drugs by dictating to the drug companies (to an extent) at what price they can see their drugs at. It's not perfect, but the truth is we have some of the cheapest prescription drug prices is the world.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 17, 2006 6:47 a.m.  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 11, 2007 9:30 p.m.  

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