With Donald Trump finally ensconced as the Republican nominee for president, it’s high time to applaud his spot-on positions on the pharmaceutical industry.
As a physician, I believe that Trump is absolutely right about allowing cheaper pharmaceutical drugs manufactured abroad to be sold in the United States. He is right that the pharmaceutical companies essentially sell their products to the federal government via Medicare and Medicaid without competitive bidding. In other areas of the budget, such as defense, federal laws require competitive bidding. It is outrageous this doesn’t occur with drugs and devices, especially since the health care budget is right behind defense in terms of expense.
Trump is right when he says that drug companies control the landscape. He appears to be willing to call it as it is and not worry about repercussions from the powerful drug interests, and has moved in the right direction in saying he would let Medicare negotiate with pharmaceutical companies if he becomes president. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, accepted more cash from pharmaceutical companies in the first six months of her campaign than any other candidate in either party. This lessens the potency of her claims to take similar action and suggests yet again disingenuous declarations. If she claims to be such an enemy of Big Pharma, then why are they contributing to her campaign?
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Trump looks at the world through the prism of commerce. The situation we are in with pharmaceuticals and medical devices makes no sense to him. As a physician, I think it’s near criminal that special interests come before my patients. The drug lobbies have succeeded in making the importation of prescription drugs illegal under various self-serving agendas, disguised as “for the public good” and “protecting the drug companies” so they can continue to innovate.
Both of those charades are laughable. Big Pharma is big business; its objective is to make money for its stockholders. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t be fooled by the avalanche of ads positioning these corporations as do-gooders. It’s well-known that drug companies’ budgets for marketing are higher than for R&D. That false tune of the cost of innovation is plain stupid and a lie.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose campaign coffer is loaded with contributions from drug companies, Trump has barely dipped into that pot of besmirched gold. Yes, Trump is defying Republican dogma, but he’s honestly and forthrightly calling Big Pharma on its Big Baloney.
The same indictments of Big Pharma go to the heart of medical device manufacturers. Their control of the landscape and funding of the FDA is the fox guarding the hen house.
Whether it is drugs such as Vioxx or Avandia that are released without adequate vetting under industry pressure and kill over a hundred thousand people, or a medical device (Infuse) that includes bone growth proteins that led to sterility in men, it is the same story. Money buys influence, and these companies continue to sell the Kool-Aid that their goal is to improve the health and welfare of the American public.
Back during the early part of the primaries, my son Josh’s Instagram picture wearing a “F…K Trump” headband on a Trump golf course went viral. I took a look at how he and I were communicating our opinions. I am very proud of him as a person, as an athlete, and as a student, but disagreed with his choice of sending such a picture. The message was crude and thoughtless; something Josh is not. He redeemed himself and realized his mistake with his second posting, which added the caption: “I support all presidential candidates in this race for the White House. I believe in the American system of democracy and hope that our country picks the best and most qualified person to be our Commander in Chief.”
On that point, father and son do agree.
I know it gets harder and harder to hear any rational discussion, much less debate, as we get closer to the election. But I think it behooves us all to take a breath and listen for the other person’s truth. Only that way will we be able to pick the right person to be our next president.
Charles D. Rosen, MD, is cofounder and president of the Association for Medical Ethics and clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.