Doctors need to be the impetus for change

Anant Naik

Imagine yourself going to a clinic. You’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness by one of America’s finest medical professionals. They say, “Take drug X, and you’ll feel better.” You take your subscription to your neighborhood pharmacy and receive your medication along with a soul-crushing bill.

If you’re the single earner in an average American household, your income is likely $50,000 a year, and much of that goes to paying rent, bills and taxes. What are you to do? You need this medication. What should you prioritize?

This case is a peculiar and common quandary — one that has caused a tremendous amount of stress to many people in the United States. What’s even more frustrating is that this unfortunate situation has been nearly exclusively tailored to the United States, as many drugs cost more only in our country.

Data from the International Federation of Health Plans show that drugs such as Enbrel — used to treat autoimmune disease —costs about $1,000 in countries such as Canada and Spain. In the U.S., it costs nearly $3,000.

The argument that many people pose is that this cost is a necessary part of regulation. If there’s increased regulation, drug cost increases are also warranted to offset the loss. However, if this regulation was truly benefitting the average American, we would all expect that the impact on our health would also be evident. Yet, this is not the case. The United States spends exorbitantly on health care yet has a lower life expectancy and worse health than other high-income nations.

Last year, the New York Times reported that many pharmaceutical companies raised drug prices for no apparent reason and did so at a faster rate than inflation. Other criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry include the lack of research transparency and accountability, especially in clinical drug trials and regulatory processes.

What’s important to note is that ultimately, physicians have the capacity to prescribe certain medication. For this reason, physicians have to be the impetus for change when it comes to drug prices because they are the primary source of interaction between the medications that treat patients and patients themselves.

First, doctors and other clinicians have to be more conscientious of the cost of drugs for their patients. A lot has been written in the medical community about the cost of care and how physicians don’t go out of their way to prevent waste in this system. This has to change.

Furthermore, physicians should not be hesitant to advocate for patient protections and rights. Many doctors I know personally have suggested that this realm is necessarily political, and entering it is simply asking for undue trouble.

The job of a doctor is not simply to hand over treatments for diagnosed conditions, but to become an advocate for patients’ health — including their social and economic livelihood. Without their expert opinions and experience in the field, it becomes nearly impossible for policymakers to take real action and advocate for change.