The Fine Line Between Profit and Greed: Price Gouging in Health Care

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Health Care Profits

By Michel H.E. Hermans, MD

Your mortgage company will not be able to hike your interest rate by 500% before the maturity date. If they tried, you could sue them for breach of contract and simply go somewhere else. If Mercedes, Hyundai or Ford hiked their prices by 5000%, you would simply visit a different dealership. You have choices and are responsible for these choices.

When Prescription Drugs Get a Price Hike

How different is the situation for a patient. The patient's body suffers from a condition that, if serious enough, needs to be taken care of by a specialized person since the patient simply lacks the knowledge and training to do so. Think about acute pain in the lower right abdomen. What’s the differential diagnosis? Is an operation necessary or is it just a case or serious gastroenteritis? If you are not a surgeon, you cannot and are not allowed to operate and antibiotics need a prescription from an authorized health care provider. Indeed, being seriously ill creates a condition where the authority to intervene is virtually never in the hands of the person who suffers from the illness: this is a fairly unique situation in human intervention and interaction.

When you suffer from Wilson’s disease, a defect in copper metabolism causes your body to accumulate copper which, when untreated, leads to serious liver, nervous system and kidney problems and, often, ultimately to death. Chelating prescription medication has to be taken to help the body to get rid of excess copper.

Toxoplasmosis results from an infection of a very common parasite. In most cases the infection may not develop any symptoms but for infants born to infected mothers and for patients who are immunocompromised, an infection may have very serious consequences and needs to be treated with a specific type of antibiotic.

Drugs to treat Wilson’s disease and toxoplasmosis have been around for decades, but their prices were recently increased by 500 and 5000 percent respectively. Outrage by the public and certain politicians may lead to lower increases but a massive price hike is still expected.

Protecting Patients Against Price Gouging Practices

In a country where the cost of health care is the primary reason for personal bankruptcy, formal patient protection against these type of practices barely exists. Normally my blog is not about politics and is primarily about wound care (and not Wilson’s disease or toxoplasmosis) but we all need to have an environment where consumers, and in this case patients, are protected from this type of price gouging. Of course companies need to make a profit, but this is pure and unjustifiable greed. The choice between bankruptcy and a baby with hearing loss, mental disability and/or serious eye infections because of untreated toxoplasmosis should never have to be made in the first place.

About the Author
Michel H.E. Hermans, MD, is an expert in wound care and related topics, trained in general surgery, trauma care and burn care in the Netherlands. He has more than 25 years of senior management experience in the wound care industry. He has conducted a large number of clinical trials relating to devices and drugs aimed at wound care and related indications and diseases. Dr. Hermans speaks internationally and has authored many published works relating to wound management.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.

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