I totally agree with Ezra on this (but there is a BUT coming):
2/3rds of Pharmas current R&D budget goes not towards creating new drugs for killer conditions, but towards crafting copycats of other blockbuster drugs, which evade the patent protections placed by competitors. Another massive proportion of the actual research is conducted in the public sector and licensed out at miniscule prices through the Hatch-Waxman Act. Indeed, lower prices and innovation aren't either/or, they're both/and. Were I the Democrats, I'd decree that some proportion of the savings from negotiation go to the NIH to fund the lifesaving research that gets turned into lifesaving drugs, rather than going to subsidize the useless research that goes to create a knockoff version of Lipitor.It does piss me off every time I see a boner pill commercial (about every five minutes my TV is on) that the money spent on that ad could have been better used finding a cure for cancer or heart disease. And it does seem to not be in humanities best interest to have these companies primarily engaged in chasing ever larger profits rather than cures.
Pharma isn't fighting this battle because they're terrified of losing even one dollar that could go towards innovation. They already spend twice as much on advertising as they do on R&D. And most of the R&D doesn't "innovate" at all. They're waging this war because they want to make more money. That's their job. But it's the governments job to advocate for the public interest, and better pharmaceutical prices, particularly coupled with more investment into cutting edge, lifesaving drug research, is the public interest.
I also have this nagging voice that tells me there is room for both making money on frivolous drugs AND curing cancer. It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Maybe that nagging voice is really just a small transmitter placed in my brain via those last antibiotic pills I took manufactured by one of the big pharmaceutical companies. Either way, I can’t help but think this is possible.
I know there are some things that can be done immediately to improve the situation. Giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices would be a great start. How about taxing some of Big Pharma’s profits to be used in government funded research into life-saving drugs that aren’t being pursued aggressively enough by the drug companies?
Hey, if there’s a market for all kinds of allergy meds, then great, fill (or create) the need and sell away. But society needs a mechanism that produces solutions to more dire (or rare) medical problems, a mechanism that isn’t driven solely by profit. I just don’t know what that mechanism is.