Medication Prices and International Extortion

Teri Robert @trobert Health Guide
  • I don't know anyone who doesn't think the price of medications is too high. Not a single person. Why the prices are so high is another matter altogether. One thing that has always irritated the daylights out of me is that those of us in the U.S., where so many medications are manufactured, often pay the highest prices in the world. Medications are sold to "poorer" countries at lower prices. They're sold to Canada at lower prices because the Canadian government negotiates and regulates prices. It's my contention that the pharmaceutical companies should be selling their products at the same prices, regardless of where they're being shipped. Would people in those poorer countries be paying higher prices? Yes. But in the U.S., there are people who go without medications they can't afford. Others of us, even if we have medical insurance, are spending an increasingly disproportionate amount of our income on medications, and it's getting worse, not better.
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    So, what brought on today's tirade? Brazil. Here's a BBC News headline:
    Brazil to break Aids drug patent
    Brazil's president has authorised the country to bypass the patent on an Aids drug manufactured by Merck, a US pharmaceutical giant.

    Granted, the subject of this news article is an AIDS medication, but this is just the most recent example of this kind of behavior, and to me, it's extortion. Plain and simple extortion.

    Here's the situation... Merck was prepared to sell this medication in Brazil at a 30% discount off the price charged in the U.S., making the price $1.10 per tablet. The Brazilian government, however, wanted the price Merck gives Thailand, $0.65 per tablet. When Merck declined the offer, sticking to their original offer, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, announced that Brazil would bypass Merck and their patent, buying a less expensive generic of the medication from India.

    Such actions have the potential to impact pharmaceutical research the world over. Pharmaceutical companies are not nonprofit organizations. They're businesses with stockholders to whom they're accountable. For every drug that is developed and makes its way to the market, there are at least a dozen drugs that don't make it past the research phases, yet that research costs billions of dollars. For a company to survive, all of those costs have to be covered by the prices of their medications on the market. That's one reason there are patents that protect the companies for the first 14 years the drugs are on the market.

    A Merck representative said that Brazil's action sent "a chilling signal to research-based companies about the attractiveness of undertaking risky research on diseases that affect the developing world."

    The Brazilian President said, "...from a political point of view, it represents a lack of respect, as though a sick Brazilian is inferior." Well, Mr. President, I don't think a sick Brazilian is inferior. But, I don't think a sick Brazilian is superior either. And, if you want to talk about a lack of respect, think about the lack of respect that you're displaying toward the rest of the world.

  • Extortion. Merck could cut their offer of a 30% discount even further or Brazil would break their patent. Pure and simple extortion.
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    "Brazil to break Aids drug patent." BBC News. May 4, 2007.

Published On: May 05, 2007