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Doug Fuss owns and operates Bull Feeney’s in Portland.
Every year, I pay $14,000 out of pocket for infusions of biopharmaceuticals to keep my Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory auto-immune condition, under control. It’s by no means a panacea, but it sure beats the days before I took them. Back then I passed out nearly every month from the pain and had to have 18 inches of my intestine surgically removed. If I were not fortunate enough to have insurance, I would either have to go back to those days or pay $30,000 a year.
Why are biopharmaceuticals so expensive? Yes, part of it is that they are more complex than typical medications. But it’s mostly because the pharmaceutical companies that make them have used their immense political power to create virtual monopolies. That has allowed them to price gouge patients like me who need to stomach their price-tag in order to survive.
It has also allowed them to do the same to my daughter. She has Type 1 Diabetes and needs insulin to survive. Insulin has been around for a hundred years and it costs just $10 to produce a vial of it. When Eli Lilly introduced its insulin brand Humalog to the market in 1996 they charged $20 a vial, still allowing them to make a very healthy profit. Today they charge $275. Why? Because they can.
For the last 19 years, I have owned and operated Bull Feeney’s, an a Irish pub and restaurant in downtown Portland. I subsidize health insurance for full-time employees who choose to join our group plan. Also, after the coronavirus shutdown, I continued to pay the group premium for their health insurance even though they were furloughed because of the pandemic. That’s what small businesses do.
Imagine, instead, if I acted like a big pharmaceutical company and charged my customers $100 for a $7 pint of beer! They would walk out immediately.
Now what if, like treatment for a life-threatening illness, my customers needed beer to survive? What if I used my profits to convince powerful politicians to give me an exclusive license to sell beer? I could charge whatever I wanted and profit handsomely off of their need. It may sound absurd, but that’s what pharmaceutical companies are doing.
We are suffering through a pandemic that has devastated small businesses, yet pharmaceutical monopolies are positioned to profit from the greatest health crises of our generation by price gouging medicine used to treat COVID-19. Taxpayers have already invested $3 billion into coronavirus research, but the Trump administration and Senate Republicans killed measures that would have made a COVID-19 vaccine affordable or available at no cost to everyone who needs it.
That’s why a bipartisan group of representatives have introduced the MMAPPP Act, which stands for Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price-gouging. It would prohibit monopolies of any taxpayer-funded drugs to diagnose, treat, or prevent COVID-19 (including vaccines), and would require reasonable and affordable prices for those drugs.
That’s good for small businesses like mine. A crisis like this reminds us that we are only as healthy as the least healthy person amongst us. The fewer folks who have access to a vaccine and other treatment, the longer this crisis lasts. The longer this crisis lasts, the longer Main Street will be forced to close and fewer will reopen when it finally ends. If we allow Big Pharma to price gouge us on a COVID-19 vaccine, we are choosing political expediency and corporate donations over the lives of our neighbors and the survival of small businesses like mine.
Thankfully, Rep. Chellie Pingree has already signed on to cosponsor the MMAPPP Act. Unfortunately, the rest of our state’s congressional delegation has not yet joined her. What is standing in their way?