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A prescription for a debate

A prescription for a debate

John Donvan
Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Pieties aside, pharmaceuticals need to make a profit.

This is just a fact we—consumers of pharmaceutical invention—have been willing to swallow, because who is not grateful for the good that these companies’ products have wrought? Antibiotics. The extermination of smallpox. Making HIV infection a death sentence no longer.

And if drug companies get rich from the business, most of us can see the sense in that result: profits are their prize for delivering health, healing, and sometimes longer life.

But drug companies sometimes have a way of making their “end user” customers—sick people—feel like hostages. As when they figure out some new way to save life—something like, say, the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi—and then set a price that takes your breath away. Sovaldi, you probably recall, started out in 2013 at a list price of $1000 for a single pill.

Numbers like that attract endless wrath toward the drug industry. Cast as “Big Pharma,” it gets accused of raw greed and blamed for driving up health care costs for everyone. And when the companies reply that this accusation is unfair—that their prices are how they recoup huge investments in research, that FDA regulation makes drugs more expensive than they have to be, that insurance companies are the real bad guys—their critics still come back charging that Big Pharma has a unique moral responsibility to its customers, and that it too often fails to meet it.

Who’s right? In a world where 59% of Americans will take at least one prescribed medicine before bedtime tonight—and where the two candidates for president have very different ideas about Obamacare—we think the question merits a good, tough-minded debate.

So we’re doing it. Thursday, October 13th, we’re putting together a debate about ethics, business, science, and regulation, when we debate this motion:

Blame Big Pharma for Out-of-Control Health Care Costs.

We’re doing this one downtown, at NYU’s Skirball Center, as part of our continuing series of health care debates, which is made possible thanks to the generosity of Thomas Campbell Jackson.

As always, we intend to mount a debate that will be smart, civil, fun—and piety-free. Those are our active ingredients. Trust me. I’m reading straight from the label here.

Buy tickets and cast your vote now.

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