The Menlo Roundtable

The Selfish Miracle

We are medicinal miracle-workers. We have developed countless life-saving drugs that allow those with less than perfect lives to live something more comparable to “normalcy,” but there is a caveat.

Because it is the only thing that can save their lives, they are forced to pay anything and everything for it; they have no other choice. And as pharmaceutical company executives know this, they have allowed drug prices to skyrocket, especially in the case of insulin. In the last 20 years, the price for analog (synthetic made) insulin has increased by 1400%, despite there being no changes in the composition of the drug since 1996. But can the companies be blamed? Are we even capable of behaving altruistically to aid those who need it at lower prices, or must we employ a “soft-paternalistic” strategy to assure that prices are fair and sustainable within our economic values?

The complexity of this issue comes from both the financial standpoint of capitalist incentives, and from a consideration that the high price corresponds to a just return for the work researchers and scientists put into a drug, as well as the process to make it. Ultimately, insulin should be accessible to everyone who needs it, and because we cannot be trusted to determine a fair price without government intervention, there must be a new schema for establishing insulin prices that acknowledges that with our market system we are not inherently altruistic.

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