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Posted by on Aug 28, 2016 in 2016 Elections, 2016 Presidential Election, Business, Politics | 31 comments

Epi-Pens, Politicians and Free Markets (Guest Voice)

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Epi-Pens, Politicians and Free Markets
by Sal Monela

By now, most people have heard about the 600% price increase in a medication called an Epi-Pen. The Epi-Pen is a device carrying a drug used by people who experience severe, life threatening allergic reactions.

Needless to say, a number of people, including politicians, have been critical of the manufacturer, Mylan, and it chief executive, Heather Bresch for imposing such an astronomical cost increase on a medication on which the patent has expired. But don’t worry Heather; Kevin Williamson writing in the National Review has heroically ridden to your defense.

According to Williamson “Mylan, recently raised prices on the EpiPen and several other treatments they sell. An EpiPen dose might cost as much as $600, which is . . . about half of what the typical American family spends on cable TV in a year. Yeah, sure, little Bobby’s face is swelling up like a North Korean dictator’s and his kidneys are about to fail — but there’s two episodes left on Game of Thrones this season!” Yep, all we have to do is give up cable TV so we can have the resources to spend $600 to buy a lifesaving product that cost $100 a few years ago. But what if we don’t have cable TV? Lots of people give up things much more worthwhile than TV to afford their meds and other medical expenses. And how would we be able to be educated about the Epi-Pen if we don’t have TV and couldn’t see those ads that Mylan has recently began running that encourage us to “ask your doctor?”

Of course, Kevin argues that Mylan needs this price increase. He says “Epinephrine is unstable, and developing a way to store and deliver it reliably isn’t easy.” Thank you Kevin because I always thought that businesses included the R&D costs in the pricing when the product first goes to market. I never realized that they wait 15 or 20 years to include those expenses in the cost.

Williamson lays the blame on politicians and Obama Care for the price increase “Remember that medical-device tax? An EpiPen is a medical device.” Well, sorry to burst your bubble Kevin, but congress approved a moratorium on the medical device tax that is currently in effect and lasts till the end of 2017. Further, there is a retail exemption from tax on products normally sold to consumers. And lastly, maybe my math is faulty, but it’s really hard to convert the imposition of a 2.3% tax into a 600% cost increase.

Kevin provides further conclusive evidence that politicians are at fault “If we were relying on the intelligence, work ethic, creativity, entrepreneurship, scientific prowess, and far-sightedness of the members of Congress to produce treatments for allergic reactions or any other medical problem, we’d still have a million people a year dying from smallpox and preventable infections …We’d also be starving to death…These people are parasites. They make: nothing. They create: nothing. They produce: nothing.” While I might agree with some of Willimason’s observations about intelligence and work ethic of some members of congress, if I recall correctly, the Federal Government funds an awful lot of basic research (approved by Congress) without which we wouldn’t have many of those medical and technological breakthroughs and millions of people would be starving to death.

Kevin goes on to say “I don’t know how much Heather Bresch has in the bank, but without checking, I’ll bet you five dollars it is a good deal less than the Clintons have piled up in “public service.” I don’t know how much Heather has in assets either, but ABC just reported that her annual compensation has gone from $5 million in 2009 to $19 million today. I’d say that gives her plenty of discretionary income. Of course, the private sector has to pay astronomical salaries to attract talent, but in a comparable public sector position you are expected to work for peanuts.

The far right lives under the illusion that government doesn’t produce anything. Just looking outside my front window, I can see roads, a bridge, powerlines owned by a city carrying electricity produced by a federal agency, the BPA. Overhead are aircraft that took off from publicly owned airports and a short distance away is a major port owned and operated by a public port authority. At the same time, the private sector engages in a number of activities including high frequency trading and short selling that produce absolutely nothing other than move money around between investors. In other words those who engage in these activities may be considered “parasites. They make: nothing. They create: nothing. They produce: nothing.”

The National Review prides itself on being an intellectual defender of conservatism. Most of Williamson’s article is a hysterical rant against liberal politicians, in particular Hillary and Bernie. It’s also full of dubious information. If the editors believe that this is a thoughtful defense of corporate price gouging, then I will be happy to sell them that bridge in front of my home. But there is one very good point that Williamson made. He showed us why unfettered capitalism is such a lousy idea.

photo credit: EpiPen Auto Injector via photopin (license)

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