I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “Ask your doctor if medical advice from a TV commercial is right for you!” Let me tell you why I have this sticker.
Only in the U.S. and New Zealand is it legal for drug companies to advertise on TV. In the U.S. and New Zealand, patients see TV ads and ask their doctors for a prescription. Drug companies know that every $1,000 spent on a TV ad creates 24 new patient customers for them. Drug company profits are at an all-time high, yet they are always looking for more profits. They say they need their huge profits for research, but they spend 19 times more on marketing.
Every other country has decided that these ads are not in the people’s best interest and made them illegal. But in the U.S., the drug companies influence Congress through millions of dollars in campaign contributions, so the TV ads are legal here.
Another way drug companies profit from our health dollars is by inflating medicine costs. In the U.S., doctors are excited that there is now a cure for Hepatitis C, which is a chronic liver infection that can lead to cirrhosis or cancer. One of my younger patients was found to have Hepatitis C. He is now cured eight weeks later. Fortunately, he had insurance that covered the very high cost of this drug.
It is $1,000 per pill in the U.S., but costs the company only $130 per pill to make. The cost is $84,000 for the 12-week treatment. In Canada it costs $55,000 for the treatment. In Egypt it costs $900 for the treatment. Three million people in the U.S. have Hepatitis C, and they don’t all have insurance. Some of these people will die because they can’t afford the cure. Texas didn’t pay for this drug at all last year, citing cost. Thus, many poor people in Texas went without it.
Why the cost difference? It is because the U.S. doesn’t negotiate drug prices with the drug companies like other countries do. Congress has voted several times not to negotiate lower drug prices with drug companies, including votes on Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.
Imagine your member of Congress is voting on an important issue such as drug price negotiations. Should he or she think about the wealthy drug companies who got them elected or the residents of Maine who cannot afford some of the drugs and could die without them?
We are losing our democracy because of unlimited campaign contributions. Democracy is defined as “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” Oligarchy is defined as “a small group of people having control of a country.” President Jimmy Carter now states the “U.S. is an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” He said if he were to run today, he would not be able to raise the funds to be elected.
These days, money is a major controlling factor in elections. Nineteen million dollars was spent in the last Maine governor’s race, which was the highest ever. Seven billion dollars was spent in the U.S. elections in 2012, also the highest ever.
Most of the major issues facing our country would be easier to solve with Clean Elections. Imagine tackling climate change without oil company subsidies. Imagine passing Medicare for All, HR 676, without huge health insurance and drug company campaign donations. Imagine tax reform without billionaires controlling Congress.
We need to win our democracy back. Voting yes on Question 1 on Nov. 3 in Maine will put us on the road to Clean Elections. Maine’s state motto, “Dirigo,” means “I lead.” Our state can be a leader on this issue.
Kathryn Bourgoin, MD, of Orono is a family doctor who practices at EMMC Family Medicine in Bangor.