Healthcare reform debates in Washington are fascinating spectator sports. In order to advance one’s agenda, the best strategy seems to be to find someone to demonize. imageIt goes something like this: create a crisis fervor, point the finger of blame at some straw dog, and try and steer public opinion for doing something!

No group has caught the heat over the years more than the pharmaceutical industry. “Big Pharma” is an easy target. Everyone complains about the high cost of healthcare and more pointedly, the high cost of prescription drugs. We then hear a background chorus chime in about “excessive profits.”  They fail to mention the number of high paying jobs, research grant funding and philanthropic donations.

We sometimes hear from  industry spokespeople  regarding the cost of R&D and the price of innovation.  What we don’t hear enough about is the value that many therapeutic regimens represents, both in terms of reducing overall healthcare expense (better chronic disease control) and quality of life. In fact, extending life itself to many patients.

Certainly there is room for improvement in the way the pharma industry manages certain business practices. For example, it’s hard to justify extending patent protection and creating different indications for older drugs.  And let’s not neglect to mention the folly of a  drug company that introduces a new, much more expensive drug that has no evidence of improved patient outcome.

But where the drug industry really falls short, is the lack of self promotion when it comes to assisting needy patients. Pharma supports over 270 Prescription Assistance Programs (“PAPs”)  and Co-Pay Foundations representing approximately 450 different programs. These are the programs that coordinate assistance for those patients that cannot afford their medications and are funded to a large extent by pharma. The phama industry donates multiple millions of dollars in free drugs annually as well as over $300 million in cash annually to help insured patients meet their co-pay requirements.

Patients in need (including Seniors with Med D coverage) can contact a third-party agency for help or go directly to the pharmaceutical manufacturer of the drugs they need. In the vast majority of cases, pharma comes through for these patients.

Three cheers for pharma on this count!

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