Posts Tagged ‘healthcare’


Back in August, James Surowiecki observed that the lack of an Ebola treatment was disturbing but predictable—because it’s simply not profitable for corporations in the pharmaceutical industry.

When pharmaceutical companies are deciding where to direct their R. & D. money, they naturally assess the potential market for a drug candidate. That means that they have an incentive to target diseases that affect wealthier people (above all, people in the developed world), who can afford to pay a lot. They have an incentive to make drugs that many people will take. And they have an incentive to make drugs that people will take regularly for a long time—drugs like statins.

This system does a reasonable job of getting Westerners the drugs they want (albeit often at high prices). But it also leads to enormous underinvestment in certain kinds of diseases and certain categories of drugs. Diseases that mostly affect poor people in poor countries aren’t a research priority, because it’s unlikely that those markets will ever provide a decent return. So diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, which together kill two million people a year, have received less attention from pharmaceutical companies than high cholesterol. Then, there’s what the World Health Organization calls “neglected tropical diseases,” such as Chagas disease and dengue; they affect more than a billion people and kill as many as half a million a year. One study found that of the more than fifteen hundred drugs that came to market between 1975 and 2004 just ten were targeted at these maladies. And when a disease’s victims are both poor and not very numerous that’s a double whammy.

Unfortunately, the best solution Surowiecki could offer was to reward companies for creating substantial public-health benefits by offering prizes for new drugs.

Leigh Phillips offers much the same kind of analysis of the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in research to produce the necessary treatments and vaccines for unprofitable diseases. In an interview with Amy Goodman [ht: dw], he adds an additional dimension:

I think we need to look at the political and economic circumstances, particularly around this particular disease both in the United States and Western countries in terms of the funding for research, where that’s coming from, and in terms of austerity in Europe, but also austerity in West Africa, as well. There’s sort of two prongs to this. The first, of course, was that, you know, over the last few months we’ve seen over and over again people from the CDC, senior figures from the WHO, even John Ashton, the head of the U.K. Faculty of Health, who have said, basically, that the knowledge is there, the know-how is there—we have five candidate vaccines, there’s a number of other different treatments that, you know, are well in hand—but there just hasn’t been any buy-in from the major pharmaceutical companies. John Ashton, as I was saying, from the U.K. Faculty of Health, you know, sort of the doctor-in-chief, if you will, in the U.K., described this as “the moral bankruptcy of capitalism.” It sounds, you know, quite vituperative there, quite explosive language, but it really expresses the anger that a lot of the researchers feel about how, look, we know what to do here, but this is just an unprofitable disease.

As a result, Phillips offers a much more comprehensive solution:

Over these past few months, the worst Ebola outbreak in history has exposed the moral bankruptcy of our pharmaceutical development model. The fight for public health care in the United States and the allied fight against healthcare privatization elsewhere in the West has only ever been half the battle. The goal of such campaigns can only truly be met when a new campaign is mounted: to rebuild the international pharmaceutical industry as a public sector service as well as address wider neoliberal policies that indirectly undermine public health.


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Chart of the day

Posted: 1 October 2014 in Uncategorized
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As Yili Chien explains, the increase in health care costs, together with the increase in income inequality, has made health care unaffordable for lower-income groups, enlarging the medical consumption inequality between the rich and poor.

This can be seen in the chart above, which plots the unaffordability percentage for all households in each income quintile over time. The first quintile represents the poorest 20 percent of the population, and the fifth quintile represents the richest 20 percent.

According to Chien,

Clearly, for each given year, the index level is negatively associated with income. It is not surprising that health care is more affordable for high-income households than it is for low-income households. Over time, the unaffordability index of all households showed an upward trend. From 1995 to 2012, the index increased from 11.8 percent to 16.8 percent, showing that the rapidly increasing cost of health care, in fact, burdened more U.S. households.

More importantly, there was a diverging trend of the index between the rich and the poor. The bottom quintile percentage rose from 23.3 percent in 1995 to 32.7 percent in 2012, exhibiting an almost 10-percentage-point surge. Similarly, the second quintile was also heavily affected. The index increased from 15.1 percent to 24.2 percent, also an almost 10-percentage-point escalation.


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I had never heard of the Rashi Fein, who died last week, until today. Apparently, he developed ideas for Medicare legislation in the 1960s and criticized the nation’s inability to create a federal single-payer system for healthcare.

He was also a critic of the language of commodities (in a piece that appeared in 1982 in The New England Journal of Medicine):

A new language is infecting the culture of American medicine. It is the language of the marketplace, of the tradesman, and of the cost accountant. It is a language that depersonalizes both patients and physicians and describes medical care as just another commodity. It is a language that is dangerous. . .

In speaking the new language, doctors have adopted the attitudes and methodology of economics — a narrow economics that emphasizes efficiency more than equity. Everything is to be evaluated in terms of benefit-cost relations, and cynicism has become apparent in the discussion. . .

In no small measure, physician-administrators speak the language that they speak because they reflect the world in which they live and the system in which they function. If society wants them to use different words, it must create conditions that encourage them to do so. . .

A decent medical-care system that helps all the people cannot be built without the language of equity and care. If this language is permitted to die and is completely replaced by the language of efficiency and cost control, all of us — including physicians — will lose something precious.

I cannot guarantee that we will structure the system in a way that will emphasize compassion and human values. I do believe, however, that these values cannot be nurtured in a cultural soil in which patients are described as teaching material, a medical practice is described as a business, delivering medical care is described as producing a product, and human interactions are increasingly described in terms of financial transactions.


Fast-food workers are planning to go on strike this coming Thursday, with a nationwide walkout to protest low wages, poor healthcare, and employers’ attempts to block unionization.

The strike is the latest in a series of increasingly heated confrontations between fast food firms and their workers. Pressure is also mounting on McDonald’s, the largest fast food company, over its relations with its workers and franchisees.

Workers from McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and other large chains will strike on Thursday and are planning protests outside stores nationwide, in states including California, Missouri, Wisconsin and New York.

The day of disruption is being coordinated by local coalitions and Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15, union-backed pressure groups which have called for the raising of the minimum wage to $15 an hour for the nation’s four million fast-food workers.


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14R0DA.AuSt.79 Clay Bennett editorial cartoon