Hightower: How Can a CEO Feel Good About Price Gouging to Get Rich?
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Corporate price gouging is never nice. But gouging people on the price of medicines they rely on to stay alive is worse than not nice -- it's predaceously evil.
And if you think corporate morality can't go lower than that, how about gouging people on the price of a life-saving medicine in order to jack up the personal pay of a drug maker's CEO? That's the bottom level of grotesque immorality where Heather Bresch dwells. She is chief executive of Mylan, a pharmaceutical profiteer that markets the EpiPen medical device, which literally is a lifesaver for people who suffer deadly anaphylaxis allergy attacks.
These allergy attacks kill nearly 200 people a year in the U.S. alone. Within seconds, something as common as peanuts or a bee sting can cause sever rash, swelling of the airways, drops in blood pressure, shock, and if not treated right away, death. So, naturally, we would want to increase access to the life-saving medicine that prevents these attacks, right?
Increasing that access is hard to do at today's price. For years, a two-shot packet of EpiPens cost under $100, but Mylan bought the rights to the injectable drug in 2007, gained monopoly control of the market, and in 2012 suddenly began sticking dependent patients again and again with drastic price hikes. Now, the two-pack averages more than $600, with some paying above $900!
Drug makers routinely claim they must charge high prices to recoup their cost of developing their products -- but Mylan didn't develop the EpiPen, taxpayers did. The original research was initiated by the Pentagon back in 1973. Today, the device and the medicine in it cost Mylan only a few dollars to produce, and the product itself is essentially unchanged from when Mylan bought it. So the company's only real contribution to the EpiPen has been to raise its price by more than 600 percent -- a shameful act of sheer profiteering that rips off hundreds of thousands of users and endangers the lives of those families who simply can't afford it.
Mylan's CEO, the one responsible for this price gouge, regards herself as a self-made corporate success story -- a woman who came out of hard-scrabble West Virginia and scrambled to the top of the food chain at Mylan. "There is a work ethic and grit about [West Virginia] that allows me to help make a difference," Bresch told the New York Times.
Well, yes, grit, hard work -- and having the advantage of being the daughter of the state's former governor and current US Senator, Joe Manchin III. Take the MBA degree she got from West Virginia University, an academic credential bestowed on her 10 years after she left the school, having completed only about half of the coursework required to get a degree. The state university later conceded that Bresch was awarded this business degree... well, because her father was governor at the time, overseeing the school's budget. It's this sort of ethical "grit" that Mylan's chief exec has employed to pick the pockets of thousands of vulnerable customers who rely on EpiPen.
Heather's greed has sparked a furious public backlash, leading to congressional investigations. But, again, her "grit" might pay off, for she has bought off several top allergy-patient advocacy groups who are not backing the people. Why? Because she's been dispensing millions of dollars to them in PR grants, making them "allies" in her blatant price-gouging scheme.
One thing that has risen higher than EpiPen's price: CEO Heather Bresch's paycheck. It's up by 671 percent since 2007, and last year alone she pocketed $18.9 million! But I wonder -- is that enough to make her feel good about being so vile? Of Course, Congress and the courts will do nothing to deter her and the other Big Pharma gougers -- but surely the lowest level of Dante's Inferno has rooms reserved for all of them.