A loss for big pharma

Two drug companies were found guilty of illegal drug price hikes to Medicare users.

Major pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb lost a massive class-action lawsuit earlier this year in Massachusetts, and the U.S District Court ordered “double damages” against the companies earlier this month for illegally inflating the average wholesale price of certain prescription drugs. Damages awarded against AstraZeneca were more than $12 million and Squibb will have to pay nearly $700,000.

The judge ruled that the two companies altered the price of their drugs “knowingly and willfully” because they knew Medicare users would have no choice but to pay the 20 percent co-payment on the drugs they needed.

The defeat of two major drug companies is nice to see given the amount of control and influence the major pharmaceutical companies have over the drug and health market. The industry pours billions of dollars each year into advertising and branding their drugs to consumers, and wooing doctors into prescribing their products. One is hard pressed to watch the evening news without being barraged by 30 second ephemeral images of beautiful, healthy people who are that way because of their medications. It also isn’t hard to notice the branded pens and equipment at clinics and hospitals.

The pharmaceutical companies monopolize the drug market by blocking generic, less expensive drugs that are oftentimes nearly chemically identical to those drugs that the company sells at obscene prices. With no competition until their patents expire, the companies can charge what they want for the medications, unabashedly gouging seniors and disabled people along the way. Business practices normal in other consumer products should not extend to products that citizens need for their health and well-being.

One state court has ruled against the actions of these companies, and the 49 other states that have filed lawsuits as well have yet to be heard by the courts. Litigating against these companies will hopefully flush out some of their underhanded practices. The big pharmaceutical companies might have the upper hand when selling us drugs, but they are still accountable to the law.