During the holidays, our televisions are inundated with seasonal commercials. For the most part, they just wash over us and don’t get a second thought. This year, however, one stood out to me. In it, we see kids staring glumly out of the windows of various houses and cars, looking out over their gray, undecorated town square. Then, a thought dawns on them, and they begin raiding their homes’ stockpiles of holiday decorations. They then head to the town square and adorn it with non-denominational lights, pine rope and garland, creating a nice scene.
But then you think: Was this really the job of a bunch of children? What kind of oblivious tightwads are running this burg? You could almost see the town council peeking through their blinds, murmuring, “Whew! The suckers did our work for us!” Then they turn and carve their roast beast.
A similar thought occurred to me this past January when the news broke that billionaire Mark Cuban was starting a prescription drug service, named The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, in an effort to battle the rising cost of prescription drugs. In describing the company’s mission, Mr. Cuban uses the example of albendazole, a treatment for hookworm, a disease that strikes mostly disadvantaged people. The drug can cost as much as $500 per course, which presents an almost insurmountable financial hardship for someone without the means to pay. Through his service, however, the cost is $33.
This new plan will be a welcome sight to many; it’s common knowledge that prescription drug prices are a problem in the United States, forcing sick people to sometimes have to choose between buying food, heat or their medicine; or to split pills to try to make a month’s prescription last longer. These issues touch ophthalmology’s patients, as well, as described by this month’s Glaucoma Management author, Roma Patel, MD, MBA: “... the copay burden for our patients is ever increasing. One of my Medicare-covered patients recently told me he pays $300 a month for his glaucoma drops—and none of them were preservative-free!”
In a country where 30-year-old generic drugs can actually increase in price, rather than becoming more affordable, I appreciate what Mr. Cuban is trying to do. But, at the same time, just like watching the kids doing their town council’s job, I wish the people we’ve elect to safeguard the common good could manage to do something about drug prices themselves. Instead of a patchwork of prescription sales services, it would be nice to have a nationwide, consistent system in place to keep drug prices sane.
Will Mr. Cuban’s new prescription drug service give the powers-that-be the kick in the pants necesary to make changes to the unfair prices we force patients to pay for their medicines? Or will it just reinforce laissez-faire behavior, since they’ve learned that if they’re inactive long enough, someone else will step up and do the work for them?
— Walter Bethke
Editor in Chief