The drug maker GSK has made the decision to discontinue producing Flovent, a popular asthma inhaler “for financial reasons”. The fact that access to life-saving medication is determined by the size of the company’s profit should be alarming to Americans. Yet, this is the system we have and one that voters continue to vote for. If the goal in health care is to improve population health, then we continuously make inefficient decisions related to that goal. But because we opt for a capitalist approach to health care, this is completely aligned with the profit-maximizing goal of suppliers.
As NPR shares in this video, this could actually be a cost-saving plan given the substitute that GSK will make available will be a generic version of the product. It may very well be identical. And generic drugs typically cost less. So what is the problem? The problem is that GSK has little incentive to incur transaction costs for making this change unless they are to gain financially from doing so. It is possible the decision comes for the betterment of society to lower overall medication costs, but this is not likely the case. NPR pharmaceutical correspondent Sydney Lupkin explains that this is a way for GSK to avoid penalties from historical price increases on the product. By recreating it with a new name, they can continue to INCREASE prices for the same product. So expect higher prices, and some delays/conflicts as insurance companies decide how they will cover the “new” version of the product, particularly if it will cost them more. There will likely be some negotiations between insurance companies and GSK so that both will benefit, at the expense of the patient.
Health care will be on the ballot again in 2024. The more you vote to privatize, the farther away we get from achieving our potential in terms of population health.