Last month’s decision by pharmaceutical company Turing Pharmaceuticals to drastically raise the price of HIV treatment drug Daraprim has set the media ablaze, with numerous outlets calling Turing chief executive Martin Shkreli “the most hated man in America.” When Turing acquired the drug, Shkreli raised the per-pill price from $13.50 to $750, making the treatment, which has been on the market for over 60 years, unaffordable for many. In response to public outrage over the price increase, another pharmaceutical company announced last week that it would provide an alternative pill to Daraprim for just $1 per pill. Though the move is undoubtedly positive, it should not distract us from the underlying issues surrounding privatized healthcare.
Since Imprimis, the pharmaceutical company offering the $1 alternative, announced its decision, it has been lauded for its humanitarianism. The timing of the move was a perfect counter to Turing’s price increase, which garnered responses from politicians and protesters alike. Given Martin Shkreli’s particularly antagonistic personality — his Twitter account has earned him the nickname “pharma bro” and he responded to requests for comment with “lol” — it is easy to paint the Imprimis founders as heroes. Offering the pill at such a low cost, of course, does do its part to help patients who rely on the drug. Consumers, however, should be wary of claiming this as a clear-cut victory over corporate greed.
Though it has reduced the magnitude of the profit to be gained from the drug, Imprimis will still be profiting from its Daraprim alternative. In comparison to Turing Pharmaceuticals, Imprimis’ prices do seem much more reasonable, but the argument over prescription drugs should not be over prices — it should question the system at large. The danger in Imprimis’ move is that it could far too easily be read as a victory and undermine the efforts of those who have fought against privatized health care in the past. As long as pharmaceutical companies remain privatized, price jacks like Turing’s will remain a regular occurrence. And although the move by Imprimis might be indicative of a more consumer-conscious attitude, it is only representative of the actions of one company in a large industry.
This is not to say that reducing prices does no good. Imprimis is clearly doing what it can in a system that necessitates profits. But this system is by no means the only option, and Imprimis’ altruistic actions should certainly not be used as a defense of that system. Even though the Daraprim alternative will be more affordable, it does not have the same chemical makeup as Daraprim, nor is it approved by the FDA. Consequently, there will still be some customers paying $750 per pill to Turing Pharmaceuticals. The $1 alternative, then, is only laudable by the standards of privatized health care. There are more drastic actions to be taken before we can truly call pharmaceutical companies humanitarian, and they should not be forgotten because of one pill.
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