FILE PHOTO: Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged on a table in a photo illustration shot September 18, 2013.  REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/Illustration/File Photo
The pharmaceutical industry cannot justify its vast profits. Reuters / Srdjan Zivulovic / Illustration / File Photo

Four US presidential executive orders on July 24 took on pharmaceutical-industry greed, and increased access to affordable medicines. A world desperately seeking a Covid-19 vaccine needs more such measures.

“Big Pharma” always says its high prices are due to research and production costs. But it never could explain its huge profits.

For instance between 2000 and 2018, 35 large pharmaceutical companies reported gross profit of US$8.6 trillion from $11.5 trillion revenue.

Those predatory profits are blood money, because they are sucked out of untold numbers of patients going through financial trauma. Because they are profits wrenched from the vulnerable. And of the many families ruined – since people will do anything to pay the medical expenses of a loved one. How many people’s life savings have vanished because of medical bills?

But pharma vultures feast. For example, seven drug companies in India had posted profits between 12.77 billion and 18.88 billion rupees ($170 million to $252 million) as of April, says Hamburg-based Statista.

Measures for affordable medicines

US President Donald Trump’s four executive orders massively lower prescription-drug costs. With these measures, more people in the US have access to life-saving medicines, including insulin.

The executive orders mandate the following:

  • Direct federally qualified health centers to pass on to low-income Americans huge discounts on insulin and epinephrine.
  • States can import cheaper life-saving drugs.
  • Stop secret deals between drug manufacturers and pharmacy outlet middlemen. Thereby, patients benefit from discounts.
  • Ensure lowest prices for essential medicines. Until now, US patients paid a ridiculous 80% more for the same drugs than in other developed countries.

Trump delivered on his vow to take on Big Pharma.

Big Pharma profits

How do profits of large pharmaceutical companies compare with those of other companies on the S&P 500 Index?

In a March research paper, Doctors Fred Ledley, Sarah Shonka McCoy and Gregory Vaughan found profits of 35 large drug companies was nearly double (13.8%) those of 357 large non-drug companies (7.7%).

Understanding profits of pharmaceutical companies is needed for evidence-based policies to reduce drug costs, they said. Lower drug costs can still maintain pharma industry’s ability to innovate and provide essential medicines.

No previous American president had taken such considerable action for affordable drugs. Not as much as even a single one of Trump’s four executive orders on July 24.

“President Trump has already done more than any other president to lower drug costs,” said Alex Azar, the US secretary of health services.

Thanks to Trump, greedy drug corporations can no longer dictate prices to Medicare – the US national health insurance program covering 61 million people.

Crusade against Big Pharma

“Pharma has a lot of lobbies, lobbyists and a lot of power,” Trump said in his first press conference as president-elect in January 2017. “There is very little bidding on drugs.”

Trump’s crusade since has seen prescription-drug costs in the US falling to record lows in 2018. With the lowest prescription-drug prices in the past half-century, Americans saved $1.9 billion in medicine costs. And average basic insurance premiums for prescription drugs have fallen by 13.5% since 2017.

Not surprisingly, the anti-Trump, hostile corporate-funded media barely report on his war on Big Pharma. Besides, the pharma big boys spend $30 billion a year on advertising.

Expect more media blowback from the poisonous nexus of corporate barons and their shameless puppets of cowardly “journalists” and “editors” spewing biased trash. This corrupt nexus wants a pliable resident in the White House, even a dementia-afflicted alternative.

Invariably, positive news about Trump gets buried in manipulated media. Their victims might not be aware how Trump ensured generic drugs at historic low costs. They may not know patients had saved $26 billion in the first 19 months of his administration.

But crusaders for affordable medical care can celebrate. The list includes the Geneva-based Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, a worldwide students’ group fighting Big Pharma profits in 20 countries.

Big pharma and dishonest media – greed and corruption carry seeds of self-destruction. That is why the truth ultimately wins.

Raja Murthy has contributed to Asia Times since 2003 and The Statesman since 1990. He formerly wrote for The Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, and others.