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Inside the High Cost of Rx Drugs

prescription drugs
The high cost of prescription drugs affects us all. But what’s behind them? Is it just pharmaceutical company greed?

Welcome to Lean to the Left, the podcast that explores important developments that shape our society and our world. Our guest is Hank Laskey, PhD, a longtime adviser and consultant in the pharmaceutical industry.

Hank brings a ton of knowledge and perspective about this industry and the companies that provide the life-saving drugs so important to us all. We’ll tackle some of the factors that affect the prices we all pay for our prescriptions and hear his thoughts about what can, and should, be done about that.

Dr. Laskey also will share with us insight that will help those who want to enter that industry, or advance within in it. That’s part of the reason why he authored a book called “The Global Pharmaceutical Industry: Economic Structure, Government Regulation, and History.”

The book combines the study of business and economics with medicine, science, and technology-all within a regulatory framework-and helps the reader understand the multifaceted global pharmaceutical industry.

During the show, Dr. Laskey says a major factor in increasing drug prices is the burgeoning worldwide population, creating high demand for products that are in short supply in many areas of the world. It's not just industry greed, he contends, that causes sticker shock when it comes to many prescriptions.

Here are some questions we asked Dr. Laskey:

Q. One of the major concerns that most of us have today is the high cost of prescription drugs. With insulin, for example, it got to the point where Congress capped the price at $35 per month—but only for Medicare patients. Can you walk us through what’s involved here?

Q. What did you think of Martin Shkreli, the Turing Pharmaceuticals owner who jacked up the price of insulin to crazy levels and who raised the cost of a decades-old drug used to treat infections in babies and people with AIDS by more than 5,000 percent?

Q. Every time we turn on the TV we’re bombarded with ads for pharmaceutical products for everything from HIV to cancer to skin rashes. These products are targeted to narrow segments of the population who suffer from these various diseases. Yet, those ads are within programming that is geared to a general audience. Does this make sense?

Q. How does the marketing side of the industry interact with the medical side? Are these marketing costs reflected in the ultimate price consumers must pay for these drugs?

Q. PhRMA, the lobbying organization representing the industry, has published a piece on the web that claims that “due to negotiations in the market,” prices health plans paid for brand medicines increased by just 1 percent on average in 2021. They blame insurers and other middlemen for forcing many of the sickest patients to pay high out-of-pocket costs. Really? Your comment?

Q. Sometimes at the end of a commercial, after all of the possible side effects are revealed, the voice/over will say that “X company may be able to help” with the cost. What are these patient assistance programs offered by biopharmaceutical companies and how do they work?

Q. What are the differences between generic drugs and brand medicines? Are the generics just as good and as effective?

Q. The industry always claims that the cost for prescription drugs must reflect the high cost of research and development. To many, this seems like a cop-out. Your thoughts?

Q. What’s your view of federal regulation of the industry? Does there need to be more? In what areas?

Q. Let’s talk about those individuals who would like a career in this industry. You’ve worked as a consultant, published research articles, taught courses for several leading industry companies. What’s your advice to those who want a career in the pharmaceutical industry or move up within it? Does your book address this?

Q. Where can people find your book?

Listen to the podcast:

Watch the interview here:

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