Of the many ways the American public is being taken for a ride by their health care establishment, the price gouging and profiteering by the prescription drug industry (Big Pharma) stands out.

Today we pay far more for the identically same medications than the rest of the world — much higher. We pay double, triple or more for the same medications than Canada, Mexico, Australia, the U.K. and others.

A 2013 report from the International Federation of Health Plans showed that U.S. drug prices are at least twice and often three-to-five times higher than Canada’s, a country with some of the world’s highest medical costs.

On a trip to Mexico years ago I forgot to pack my blood-pressure medication, Prinivil. But I was able to purchase a supply (without a prescription, I might add) at a Mexican pharmacy at $4.25. I had been paying almost $20 back home for the same medication. Needless to say, I took a big supply back home with me. And these were the same pills, produced by the same manufacturer in the same bottles.

U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers, of course, have some rather ingenious explanations for this pricing disparity. But it’s really a simple matter of price-gouging and profiteering. They do it because they can.

The Veterans Administration, one of the largest U.S. customers, was once prevented by legal pressure from Big Pharma’s powerful congressional lobby from negotiating better drug prices based on volume purchases like any other large customer.

Wonder why?

The pharmaceutical industry spends more on congressional lobbying and campaign contributions than the insurance industry, which comes in second place in the lobbying game.

I was long ago convinced that free-market capitalism provides the best goods and services to the most people at the fairest prices than any other economic system. And this principle applies to cars, socks, TVs, houses, plumbing repairs and a gazillion other consumer outlays.

But I’m not so sure that the pricing and quality of health care lend themselves to mediation by the free market like other consumer purchases. A few countries such as France employ a rather complicated private-public mix of health care provision. But most everyone else relies on a multiple-provider, single-payer, government-operated system. The main goal of any strictly-for-profit health care system is, of course, to make as much money as possible, not necessarily to provide optimum, affordable patient care.

When questioned about the high prices of prescription drugs pharmaceutical industry spokesmen say they are largely due to the costly research required in their development. Horsefeathers! The American people pay $31.4 billion annually for medical research and development through the National Institute of Health (NIH). And a lot of this work is done in the labs of our tax-supported state universities. Somebody is being taken for a ride here.

So long as we fail to check up on what is fed to us by our wealthy elite power structure and our fabricator-in-chief in the White House, they are going to keep right on feeding it to us. They rely on our not checking the facts, and so far, they have been mostly right.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.

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