For most people, prescription drugs are a lifeline. For Representative Tom Price, Donald Trump’s health secretary nominee, they’re a source of profits.
Indeed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug and health corporation investments line the pockets of the Georgia Republican Trump picked to lead our nation’s health care policy. That’s an unacceptable conflict of interest.
Life-saving drugs are priced out of reach for far too many Americans, with millions skipping needed medications because of drug corporation price-gouging.
Take the case of insulin, which people with diabetes depend on for their survival. Drug corporations have raised the price of this medication by more than 200 percent over the past eight years.
“It feels like they’re holding my kid ransom,” the mother of a diabetic son told NBC News in November.
While that mother was struggling to keep her son healthy, Price was legislating on health care in the House — and buying stock in insulin-maker Eli Lilly. That drug corporation ratcheted up the price of its insulin brand by 380 percent between 2004 and last November.
Eli Lilly wasn’t Price’s only investment. In March of last year, he also bought stock in Pfizer and health insurer Aetna. The value of all three corporations rose soon after his stock purchase.
He didn’t stop there.
In August, Price put down between $50,000 and $100,000 to buy shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, which makes a multiple sclerosis drug. He also bought stock in Zimmer Biomet Holdings — one week before introducing a bill designed to blunt a regulation that would have hurt the company’s profits, according to CNN.
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer called for that transaction to be investigated as a violation of a law against insider trading. And a public watchdog group asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate his other stock purchases.
Beyond raising suspicions of insider trading, Price’s pharmaceutical dealings highlight the profiteering rampant in the entire industry.
In 2015, Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, drew national ire when he raised the price of a cancer and HIV medication from $13.50 a tablet to $750 as soon as he acquired rights to the drug. (Shrkreli has also been arrested on allegations of securities fraud.)
And last year, the drug company Mylan hiked the price of the EpiPen — which saves people from life-threatening allergic reactions — by 400 percent.
This kind of gouging has sparked widespread public outrage. Now, 61 percent of people in the U.S. agree that lowering the price of prescription drugs should be a top priority for Congress. They also want Congress to lower health care costs overall.
More than 80 percent want Medicare and other public programs that pay for prescription drugs to be able to negotiate directly with drug makers to help bring down the price — a position even Trump himself has said he supports.
Eighty-six percent want drug corporations to have to disclose how they set prices. Many others want to make prescription drugs public goods paid for by the federal government and available to all of us.
There’s no reason — at least, no good reason — lawmakers in D.C. can’t take action on these priorities.
For years, Price and politicians like him have been blocking Medicare from negotiating lower prices. His financial stake in drug corporation profiteering show us why. If Medicare negotiates more reasonable prices for medications, we get a better bargain, but Price gets hit right in the stock portfolio.
Profiteering shouldn’t be at the heart of our health care system — we need less corporate control of our health care, not more. And no one who doesn’t put people first should be in charge of setting health policy for our country.
LeeAnn Hall is a co-director of People’s Action.