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Big business, Big Insurance and Big Pharma industries dominate our government with public health taking a back seat to the need for large private profit. (Photo: TaxRebate.org.uk/Flickr/cc)

Big business, Big Insurance and Big Pharma industries dominate our government with public health taking a back seat to the need for large private profit. (Photo: TaxRebate.org.uk/Flickr/cc)

Is It Time to End Profiteering on Public Health and Nationalize Big Pharma?

Drugs would function as real social service items, not huge profit-producing goods for a tiny group of oligarchs.

Over forty years of profiteering by Big Pharma and oligarch control of our economy has left the public totally exposed and ill-prepared to face the public health crisis of COVID-19. Because Big Pharma rarely invests in prevention, it has very little motivation to invest in preparedness for a public health crisis. Drugs for prevention do not contribute to share-holder value and profit. Instead, cures are designed once a public health crisis strikes. The sicker we are the more profit they earn.

No greater disconnect exists between the public good and private interests than in the U.S. system of for-profit Big Pharma.

Big business, Big Insurance and Big Pharma industries dominate our government with public health taking a back seat to the need for large private profit. Many government leaders from both political parties share the same 'profits over public health' ideology, even though the Covid-19 pandemic clearly shows how our economic system has failed to serve our citizens by allowing these groups to privatize, sabotage, fragment and cripple our health, public health and other social services. No greater disconnect exists between the public good and private interests than in the U.S. system of for-profit Big Pharma.

Just like large health insurance corporations,Big Pharma has the inherent tendency to invent new needs, disregard all boundaries and turn everything into an object for sale and big profit. To make governments less willing and able to respond to public health /environmental crises such as Covid-19, these companies fund right-wing think tanks to attack public health policy. By presenting government as a threat to freedom, the distinguished writer for The Guardian(U.K.),George Monbiot, described how right wing groups and big business create a narrative by reframing responsible government as the "nanny state", the "health police" and "elf 'n' safety zealots". They dismiss scientific findings and predictions as "unfounded fears", "risk aversion" and "scaremongering". Public protections are recast as "red tape", "interference" and "state control."

Gerald Posner, author of "Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America", said, "Pharmaceutical companies view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity".

The world needs pharmaceutical products, of course. For the new coronavirus outbreak, in particular, we need treatments and vaccines and, in the U.S., tests. Dozens of companies are now vying to make them. "They're all in that race," said Posner, who described the potential payoffs for winning the race as huge. The global crisis "will potentially be a blockbuster for the industry in terms of sales and profits," he said, adding that "the worse the pandemic gets, the higher their eventual profit." The ability to make money off of pharmaceuticals is already uniquely large in the U.S., which lacks the basic price controls other countries have, giving drug companies more freedom over setting prices for their products than anywhere else in the world. During the current crisis, pharmaceutical makers may have even more leeway than usual because of language industry lobbyists inserted into an $8.3 billion coronavirus spending package, passed last week, to maximize their profits from the pandemic."

The antidote is nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry, large increases in production of non-patent medications and ending monopolization by the Big Pharma industry. Drug companies should be converted to non-profit public service corporations that serve the public interest rather than being used by the 1 percent and oligarchs for unlimited profit. Additionally, we need comprehensive reform in the way we produce new drugs including a public program for producing needed drugs and clinical trials that would produce new non-patent medications that stay in the public domain.

Drugs would function as real social service items, not huge profit-producing goods for a tiny group of oligarchs. With this new, fundamental reorientation of drug manufacture, drugs become more affordable for patients and society, promote innovation, strengthen efforts to assure safety and effectiveness, and upgrade the evidence available to prescribers and the public. Because drugs developed and manufactured through new public pathways remain in the public domain, they could be economically produced generically throughout the world, benefiting many nations.


© 2021 Juan Cole

F. Douglas Stephenson

F. Douglas Stephenson, LCSW, is a retired psychotherapist and former instructor of social work in the University of Florida Department of Psychiatry. He is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.

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