Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Increase Your Prices: How Pharma Monopolies Hurt Latino Families
By Albert Jacquez
In 2015 hedge fund manager Martin Shkeli raised the price of malaria medicine and key component of HIV medication from $13.50 to $750 per pill- overnight. This story made national news and put the drug corporations front and center in a heated debate about the price of prescription medicines in America.
All Americans are affected by the increased need for prescriptions to manage their health care, but not all Americans are equally affected. In reality pharmaceutical companies price gouging hurts low-income Americans, who don’t have medical insurance, disproportionately. The Latino population is among the lowest paid and most uninsured in America; the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs impacts our community the most.
While pharmaceutical drug manufacturer monopolies put life saving drugs out of reach to turn more of a profit for shareholders- Latino, low income, and underinsured Americans die and even those who have coverage find themselves struggling to choose between basic needs and pharmacy co-pays.
One of the biggest issues affecting the health of Latinos is being uninsured and underinsured. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helped reduce the uninsured gap of Latinos from almost 1 in 3 in 2013 down to 1 in 5 by 2017. Even with those huge gains by the ACA, Latinos are still the largest population of uninsured Americans, largely because many Latinos are concentrated in industries that don’t offer affordable coverage or in states like Florida and Texas that have refused to fully implement the ACA, leaving Latinos with no options for coverage under Medicaid. According to a 2016 Commonwealth Fund survey, of the U.S. adult population currently without health insurance, 88 percent is Latino, makes less than $16, 243 a year, is under age 35, and/or works for a small business.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Latinos have a lower death rate than Whites, but are more likely to have uncontrolled diseases and are more likely to die from these diseases. Take diabetes for example, Latinos are more likely to develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes than non-Latinos. Latino are also 50% more likely to die from diabetes than whites. As reported by the Center for Disease Control, about 12.5% of Latinos over the age of 18 have been diagnosed with diabetes. Couple that with the skyrocketing price of insulin and lower income and uninsured rates, it’s no wonder we see such high death rates from this disease in Latino communities.
The inventors of insulin sold the patent to the University of Toronto for a dollar, hoping that it would help save lives. It did, but since then,a lot has changed. Three drug corporations now control an overwhelming majority of the $27 billion global insulin market. In 2004, a 20-milliliter vial of long-acting insulin would likely cost $175.57, that same vial today would cost $1,487, according to cost data from Elsevier’s Gold Standard Drug Database. These prescription drug monopolies are a threat to the health of our community.
The solution to this problem is not mysterious and it could save millions of in the long-run. Senator Warren introduced a bicameral legislation called the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, which would create the Office of Drug Manufacturing. This office would be able to authorize the manufacturing of generic drugs, helping reduce the power of drug company monopolies to price-gouge patients. Generic drugs would be authorized under the legislation if the price is a barrier to patient access, the drug is listed as an “essential medicine” by the World Health Organization, no one is producing the drug, or if the drug is only produced by monopoly. With the alternative being caravaning to Canada for affordable insulin or going without and risking death, the creation of the Office of Drug Manufacturing could be an answer for countless Americans- especially Latinos.
Albert Jacquez is the Executive Director of UnidosUS Action Fund.