One might suppose that women who are in danger of delivering premature babies would not be thought of as profit centers by companies who are considered “health care providers.”
One would be wrong.
This is the scenario that was revealed in St. Louis recently:
1. There is a drug that has been used for years to help women with pre-term births. The drug, a low-cost compound known simply as 17P, was not approved by the FDA. But obstetricians apparently have prescribed this drug for many years since there are few, if any, alternatives.
2. The FDA finally approved the drug.
3. Because of this approval, and because of the drug’s classification as an “orphan” drug that will benefit a limited number of people, the company that actually manufactures it was able to sell exclusive marketing rights to another company, which is headquartered in St. Louis.
4. The marketing company, which did not invest one cent in the research, development or manufacture of the drug, gave the compound a new name (Makena) and raised the price from $15 per injection to $1,500 per injection.
5. Because the marketing rights have been sold, the low-cost compound, which is identical to the now-branded drug, is no longer available.
6. When confronted with public outrage over the 100-fold price increase, the marketing company quickly announced a “patient assistance program” for uninsured and low-income women. This will, of course, require additional paperwork, hassle and costs on the part of patients and their physicians.
Meanwhile, the same week that the drug’s price increase was announced, the former chief of the marketing company pleaded guilty in federal court to two criminal misdemeanor charges of mislabeling drugs. He was sentenced to serve a few days in jail in St. Louis because he “had to be in Jerusalem for Passover.”
Next month, families across the country will celebrate Passover (a commemoration of deliverance from bondage) and will conclude their festive meal with the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
At my holiday table, the statement will be “Next year, more health care reform!”
Barbara L. Finch is a writer and former public relations practitioner. In 2005 she and three friends founded Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice, an organization of progressive women now numbering more than 500 members and friends.