The internet has been alive in the last few days with regards to the hedge fund manager who raised the cost of a pill from $13.50 to several hundred. People were outraged, his email was made public, and the anger even received news attention. The public outcry was so great, that the businessman involved returned the price back to normal, or so it was recently reported.
The pill in question, was widely reported to be an HIV drug. People could understand that most people with HIV would never be able to afford such a dramatic increase. There was discussion and outrage over how many people would die as a direct result of this unfair price increase.
I’m glad the outrage happened, and I am glad that the discussion came up, but what surprises me is that in all the commentary, no one pointed out just how ridiculous the original cost of the pill already was. $13.50 a pill, for a pill that needs to be taken daily amounts to almost $5000 a year. That’s over $400 a month. What’s more, this medication isn’t even a treatment for HIV. Rather it is a prophylactic for some of the opportune infections suffered by people with compromised immune systems. The drugs that treat HIV can be even more expensive. There are people dying because of the costs NOW.
It’s not just HIV treatments either. My own medication Remicade, even in Canada, costs $1000 a vial. I take 10 vials every 6 weeks to treat my Crohn’s disease. That’s $10,000 every six weeks. I had to apply for special coverage for this medication from the government. A program called Trillium that gives prescription coverage to low income people. The problem is that they get to decide whether or not I get my medication. Because Remicade is still on Patent and being studied, there is a coordinator who has to have special forms filled out every year to evaluate whether or not the government will continue paying for it.
I have been told that there is a reasonable chance however, that I may be denied at some point in the near future. Why? I’m not getting better fast enough, so the government is considering me a sunken investment. Understand that they aren’t suggesting any alternate treatments. That’s up to the doctor to find, regardless of whether they exist or not.
For now I’m ok. I still have coverage, but the possibility that I might lose that coverage hangs like a dark cloud over everything in my life. I’m already too sick to work. Imagine how much worse it would be if I stopped receiving any treatment at all?
My doctor is now considering switching me to a new medication. This one doesn’t receive any support from the government yet. It’s too new. Luckily it’s so expensive, that the company offers to cover the medication for you until the government starts covering it. See they can afford to do that, because they will make all the money back once they start getting paid.
The decision of what medication one should be put on should not be between a patient, a doctor, and the patient’s bank account but too often it is. I was prescribed an inhaler, that I couldn’t afford to get simply because ODSP doesn’t cover the cost of it and I cannot afford an extra $100 a month. I’m already trying to scrape together any extra money I can to cover the medical marijuana, which at this moment is the only thing keeping me out of the hospital, and right now just barely at that.
The cost of medication is an issue that affects many of us personally, as we struggle to maintain our health to the best of our ability to pay for it. What’s worse, is that not having access to all the medication we need, makes it harder to work, which in turn makes it harder to make money.
Those of us with anxiety and anxiety-worsened conditions, like depression, like ADHD, like Crohn’s, IBS, basically an endless list of conditions, the pressure of worrying about whether or not we’ll be able to afford to pay for our meds can make our conditions worse.
There was a whole TV show premised on the idea that people have to go to extraordinary means just to be able to afford the chemotherapy necessary to treat life threatening cancer.
The problem is the only time that people who don’t live in these situations pay attention to this situation, or rather the only time they show the kind of anger that gets results, is during stunts like this. Then after it goes back down to its previously outrageous price, the anger seems to disappear. Meanwhile people like me and thousands, millions of others are left still struggling. Still forced to make decisions that should be considered a violation of basic human rights. That should be considered cruel and unusual punishment for the crimes of being sick and poor.
No one should have to take out a student loan just to pay for one dose of their medication, like I did.
No one should have a government bureaucracy decide which medication they get to receive, like I do.