New York Times Writer Sullivan Supports Drug Companies’ Efforts
"I love America's pharmaceutical companies," Andrew Sullivan declares in a New York Times Magazine opinion piece that examined his "unfashionable romance" with the industry. Sullivan, a contributing writer to the magazine who is HIV- positive, estimates that he takes 15,000 pills a year to both treat the virus and the side effects of his medications at an annual cost of $15,600 to his insurer. Last year, Sullivan writes, expenditures on prescription drugs increased 19%, but only 4% of the rise resulted from increased prices. "We're simply taking advantage of living in the 21st century and medicating ourselves to the gills," he states. While the soaring costs of prescription drugs has dominated this year's presidential race, Sullivan says that no candidate has addressed the "trade-off" associated with lowering costs. Sullivan hypothesizes that "forcing prices ... down" will have a domino effect -- leading to a cut in profits, a decrease in research and development and ultimately a reduction in new drug innovation. The result: "You may get cheaper and more widely available drugs in the short term, but you'll also get worse drugs in the long term and risk ending the greatest era in research in memory." Sullivan says that drug costs remain justifiably high because of the amount of effort and time needed for a pharmaceutical company to move a new drug to the market and "recoup the cost of their own research." He suggests that anyone who has seen another person's life improved by antidepressants or protease inhibitors knows the value of prescription drugs. And these drugs, he notes, come from the private sector, which accounts for more than 70% of the U.S. pharmaceutical research. "Our lives [are] in their hands," and "we can either be grown-ups and acknowledge this or be infantile and scapegoat them," he writes. Pharmaceutical companies, Sullivan concludes, are "not 'powerful forces,' penalizing America's 'working families.' They're entrepreneurs trying to make money by saving lives" (Sullivan, New York Times Magazine, 10/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.