Drug Pricing Inequality

Image by: New York Times


For this project, I really wanted to focus on highlighting the widespread issue of drug pricing in America. Currently, Americans pay a higher price for drugs than any other country in the world. This is due to drug companies abruptly raising the price of essential drugs without government consequences. The price hikes go unregulated because of legislators that receive funding from drug lobbying groups commonly known as “Big PhRMA.” Additionally, divides between political parties serve as obstacles in the path to progress to equal access.

Why is it controversial?

Much of the controversy surrounding the unregulated prices on drugs are based on the debate, whether drugs should be viewed as a commodity for profit or a universal necessity. Robert Pearl, a former health care CEO and professor at Stanford, wrote an article in Forbes comparing the price value on luxury handbags and life-saving drugs. The article reveals many drug companies attempt to justify their pricing by claiming it is going to regulation and development (R&D). When statistics prove there has been in no significant breakthroughs that would justify these price hikes. He also urges:

“We need common-sense pricing laws that recognize there is a difference between life-saving drugs and luxury handbags.”

Another ethical questions that is raised in this case is, Should wealth be a determining factor for who has access to life essential drugs?

America has suffered a long history of wealth discrimination however,it is important to consider the production of these drugs is costly and it is not feasible to expect drug companies to distribute them at no cost. However, these price hikes are unjustifiable. There are significant disparities in the profit margins and progress in R&D. It is unethical for drug companies to raise prices on medications that millions of people are dependent on daily. We have witnessed the catastrophic affects the prices have had through the death of so many. In a country where we claim to promote equality of all people we are failing to protect the health of so many solely based on wealth.

Why is it important?

The Principle of Autonomy: High drug prices on medications that are essential for many patients infringe upon the ability to pursue a healthy life for many Americans. Drug companies prioritizing profit over the lives of so many limits the options for working class and struggling families. There continue to be countless stories of people struggling to afford their prescribed dosages of life essential medicine and dying because of it. According to the Bioethical Principle of Autonomy, we should make decisions that allow people the right to make their own decisions. By neglecting the corruption of high drug company profits, people’s right to live is under attack based on their economic status.

The Principles of Beneficence & Nonmaleficence: As previously mentioned, the high prices of drugs that people are dependent on affects the livelihood of countless people. The Bioethical principles of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, support decisions that help and lessen harm to the most amount of people. Unregulated pricing harms the majority of non-upper class patients suffering from illnesses that require these drugs. The fact that immoral prices lead people to devalue their own health by not taking their prescribed dosages and, instead, profits large corporations. Many drug companies claim their price is due to the money needed for research and development (R&D) but the majority of these show significant disparities in profit margins. The immorality in the pricing is not justifiable as the profits are not invested into research and development of cheaper or more effective alternatives, but simply, for personal gains.

The Principle of Justice: The Bioethical Principle of Justice states we should support decisions that provide people equal access to cures. Their is no doubt that drugs should cost money, this is necessary to further R&D, profit companies, and maintain the economy. However, the recent skyrocketing prices have made essential drugs inaccessible and has led to many deaths. When patients that live off of insulin begin to skip their dosage because of the high prices it is evident there is an obstacle in the path of the cure.

“According to one recent survey, 45% of patients with diabetes have skipped doses of insulin because they can’t afford the going rate. Between 2002 and 2013, the price of insulin jumped from about $40 a vial to $130.”

Current Examples

Recently, many drug companies have drastically raised prices for life-essential drugs. The infographic below shows some of the major companies.

What Can YOU Do?

#1: Vote!!

Do your research and vote for elected officials that:

  • a) are not supported by drug lobbying groups and support
  • b) support legislation that requires transparency and accountability for drug companies hiking their prices

#2: Reach out to your community

  • Find community members that are in need of aid and help support them
  • raise awareness by participating in marches, protests, and other events that support drug pricing awareness

#3: Educate yourself

  • Keep yourself updated with news on progress
  • To gain some more insight I reached out to a mom, activist, and leader of a local juvenile diabetes support group. This interview is a great way to gain a deeper understanding:

Works Cited

Share this project
  1. April 26, 2019 by Anjali.Mirmira

    Hi Aminah! Great webpage! My name is Anjali and I am from Indianapolis, USA, the HQ of the pharma company Eli Lilly. My mom actually works for Eli Lilly’s insulin division, and many of my friends have parents who work at Lilly. I totally agree that the pricing of many drugs are very high and limit people’s access greatly. I would also like to offer a perspective about why some of these prices may be what they are. Firstly, R&D expenses, as you mentioned, are very high. US pharma are heavily regulated spaces, and as a result, nobody thinks twice about the pill they take and don’t have to worry if it is tainted, and these regulations do that. Secondly, Pharma Benefit Managers manage the pricing to pharmacies. They are middlemen who also set pricing. Pharma companies issue rebates to benefit managers who pocket these and don’t always give them to patients. As a result, the pricing of drugs is super complex and not always directly related to the pharma company. I think that while some corruption occurs at the pharma level like you mentioned, there are also other forms that are important. Along with rebates, companies like J&J and Eli Lilly have programs that attempt to make medicine more accessible. While I completely agree that drug pricing causes inequality, I think some of the root issues are on the economic level and a bit too complex to relate directly to pharma themselves. 🙂

  2. April 26, 2019 by Lilly.Whitner

    Hi Aminah! I’m so glad that someone chose to research this topic! And I loved the way you approached it. Your introduction really clearly laid out the foundation of the problem: American’s pay to much for drugs because it can’t be decided if it is a commodity or a necessity. This was a really succinct yet accurate way to put it. I personally am very skeptic of Big PhRMA, so I am pretty much on board with the stance you seem to take here. I think pharmaceutical companies take advantage of people in this time of need for the sake of making profit. But, naturally I wonder what a reasonable alternative would be. So, I read your portion about what I personally can do about this issue (vote, stay educated about the issue, etc), but I was wondering if you personally had any ideas about a solution for this problem that would come from higher up — i.e. something reasonable that the government, Big PhRMA, and the public could relatively agree on that would combat this problem.

  3. April 30, 2019 by Samira.Kethu

    Hey Aminah! I think you did an amazing job with this project! It’s really cool how you brought awareness to a topic that doesn’t get the attention it needs. I also really love how aesthetically pleasing your presentation is and how easy it makes it for the viewer. Great job!

  4. April 30, 2019 by Charles.Karr

    Hey Aminah, Im super glad someone made a presentation on this topic. One of my best friends dads has Parkinson’s and a lot of his income goes to paying for the medication. The meds extend his life expectancy by years and reduce his symptoms but he has to pay more than he’s paying for both of his sons college tuitions just for a pill a day. It has gotten super out of hand and while I can respect greed in some economic circles, I think greed in the medical field is absurd and uncalled for. Im super glad you are spreading awareness on this topic!

  5. April 30, 2019 by Lauren.Elvrum

    Overpriced drugs in America is a hugely important issue, and I am so glad that you chose this topic! The cost for medications that are crucial to people’s wellbeing is, at times, horrific. Thank you for raising awareness on this issue!

  6. April 30, 2019 by Donna Boucher

    This is such an important topic and I think you did a great job presenting the specific information involved. I truly believe that if a medicine or treatment has been made and tested and is available, it should be available for everyone who needs it, not just a select few who can afford the ridiculous prices. We need more people to realize these medicines are necessities and not luxuries. Love your website and I think you did a great job covering how to make a difference!

  7. May 01, 2019 by Alison.Lu

    This is such an important topic! This is kinda related to my topic about the opioid epidemic and the role that doctors play. I think that pharmaceutical companies also play a role in this, but I like how you researched the price of drugs because it definitely relates back to autonomy and how a person can afford the best care. Good job! What would you say about the other argument about researchers needing a monetary incentive to do all the R and D otherwise we wouldn’t have the drugs.

  8. May 02, 2019 by Taichi Kakitani

    I really liked how you started off with a graph showing differences in pill bills for the US and other countries. It highlighted your main point around the topic of price inequalities. Your infographic was also helpful because it gave some examples of well-known medicines such as insulin. Your interview with the mom made your topic more relatable.

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