Recently, the company Mylan has received heavy criticism for its decision to raise the price of an EpiPen to $600 for a 2-pack. The EpiPen is a life-saving device for people with severe allergic reactions. For those with who suffer from that affliction, it is an absolute necessity. Additionally, they expire after 12 months and need to be constantly replaced.
Considering that over half of American families have less than $1000 in the bank and are essentially living paycheck to paycheck, the increased cost of an EpiPen can be prohibitive. Moreover, many of those folks find themselves among the 30 million Americans who lack insurance and 20 million more that are underinsured. Of course, the situation is completely disgusting and understandably and many Americans have voiced their outrage on social media and in petitions. Most of their anger has been aimed at the company and its CEO, Heather Bresch.
That anger is foolishly misplaced; Bresch and Mylan are not to blame. They are doing exactly what should do to maximize profit for their shareholders as our ‘profit over people’ system dictates. They donate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to members of Congress to keep that system in place as our political system of legalized corruption allows. To quote the old saying, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” We must change the game. The only answer is a single payer healthcare system. While most Americans find this unreasonable, it is important to note that almost every other major country in the world uses a single payer healthcare to great effect, getting lower costs and better results than the U.S.
So as long as we allow healthcare and pharmaceuticals to be guided by a profit driven system, this is exactly what we can expect. Whether it is Mylan’s CEO Heather Bresch or the ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli, a profit driven system will always seek to exploit those in need of life saving medicine. When it comes to medicine, the invisible hand has a real knack for finding its way around the throat of the most vulnerable among us.
Of course, most Americans do not need an EpiPen and enough Americans have insurance with reasonable copays, so Mylan will not face a unified popular pushback. As a result, most Americans will vent some anger online, share a meme or two, and then sit back and watch as countless thousands of Americans make the impossible choice between buying an EpiPen or paying their rent, putting food on the table, or some other necessity. Some will scrape together the needed funds; others will not. And make no mistake, some small percentage of the nearly 3.5 million Americans who are prescribed, but cannot afford, this device will die as a result. If even one tenth of one percent die due to lack of access to affordable EpiPens, it will exceed the number of Americans that died on September 11th, 2001. They will be added to the approximately 20,000 Americans who die every year for lack of healthcare.
As long as the American electorate continues its support for politicians who and oppose a single payer system (and take huge sums of money from insurance and pharmaceutical companies), their blood is on all of our hands— yours and mine — not on Mylan’s and not Heather Bresch.
Ron Widelec is a progressive activist on Long Island and a high school history teacher in NYC.