Healthcare for average American adults is once again in crisis. The Affordable Care Act is a centrist compromise modeled on a Massachusetts plan lobbyists drafted for Mitt Romney when he was governor. Even before last year’s presidential election, its essential contradictions and the unenforceability of the individual mandate meant participating insurers began losing money. Several large companies withdrew from major marketplaces last summer. Now the national plan is once again in the Republicans’ lap. Despite all the vitriol and political points scored railing against “Obamacare,” they are not finding it so easy to revoke a law that has made insurance affordable for 24 million Americans without a political backlash.
One branch of the healthcare industry that receives particular opprobrium for its high costs in America compared to other countries is the pharmaceutical complex. Given that new drugs receive 20 years of patent protection and 5-7 years of exclusivity, the only factor determining the price of new drugs is the ability of the market to bear it. Moreover, the US government is forbidden by law from negotiating these prices on behalf of Medicare, Medicaid, and pension schemes, and foreign companies may not import drugs. As a result, we have witnessed several cases of pharmaceutical entrepreneurs buying drug patents and then increasing their price dramatically. Martin Shkreli obtained a license to produce antiparasitic drug Daraprim, and increased its price 56 times to $750 per pill. The price of EpiPens has increased from $100 to $600, bringing manufacturer Mylan under scrutiny.
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