People Will Die..

How many ways can this administration kill people?

Scientists tell us that changes to environmental protection laws will lead to at least 80,000 additional deaths each decade.

The announcement that acceptance of refugees fleeing war and persecution will be capped at 30,000 per year–the lowest number ever–has been condemned by Amnesty International, The International Rescue Committee and Human Rights First.  What those organizations labeled a “shameful abdication of our humanity” will result in untold numbers of deaths.

The GOP’s solicitude for the “rights” of the NRA continues to facilitate more than thirty thousand gun deaths each year.

Those are all fairly high-profile issues, and at least they’ve generated public debate.

Unfortunately, there has been much less publicity about the government’s ongoing refusal to impose rational regulations on Big Pharma. (Here in Indianapolis, our pathetic excuse for a newspaper simply ignored a recent demonstration protesting Eli Lilly’s pricing of insulin– instead, it ran a front-page “warm and fuzzy” article about the company’s new migraine drug). That failure, too, continues to kill.

If you wonder why single-payer healthcare has become such an overriding political issue, the case of insulin pricing may provide a clue.

Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the U.S. Its incidence continues to climb, and huge numbers of diabetics are insulin-dependent.

According to information provided by an organization called “Insulin4All”

  • the price of insulin has increased 1123% since 1996. This isn’t because of new discoveries–prices have increased on medications that have been around for decades.
  • More than 7 million Americans are insulin dependent. More than 25% of those Americans  have had to ration their insulin due to cost.
  • Over 6,000 GoFundMe pages are asking for money to purchase insulin. (Shane Patrick Boyle, an artist who had moved to Arizona to take care of his mother and was in between health insurance plans, died from diabetic ketoacidosis. He was $50 short in his Go Fund Me for insulin.)
  • Some people are paying $1400 a month for their insulin.

The Insulin4All organization is asking two things. First, it wants pharmaceutical companies to disclose their manufacturing costs and profits, along with their marketing expenditures. Second–and incredibly important for all health care, not just diabetes treatment–they want the government to allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug prices, like other countries’ governments do.

In all fairness, this isn’t the first administration and congress to place the bottom line of drug manufacturers above the needs of sick people needing medicines. It has to stop.

Big Pharma will claim that R & D costs a lot of money, and that those costs justify high prices for their products. It is absolutely true that research and development is costly–but it is also true that a significant percentage of those costs are covered by taxpayers who also deserve a return on their investment.

Since the election, the federal government has cut back on support for basic research (an enormously self-defeating, “penny-wise, pound foolish” policy). Data from the National Science Foundation shows that, since those cutbacks, federal agencies provided “only” 44% of the $86 billion spent on basic research. Before that, however, the federal share of all research routinely topped 70%, and it was 61% as recently as 2004.

In addition, foundations, state and local governments, voluntary health associations and professional societies support drug research and development.

No one is suggesting that Big Pharma forgo a reasonable profit. What is reasonable, however, cannot be determined without increased transparency about actual costs, and the share of those costs coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

People who need insulin are dying because they cannot afford it. A lot of people.

Maybe the drug companies could run fewer television ads prompting people to ask their doctors for Purple Pills and the like, and use those savings to bring down the cost of lifesaving medications.

And maybe an administration and a Congress less beholden to corporate interests and big money would consider policies less likely to kill people.


Coal Ash Isn’t Sexy

One of the big problems with contemporary policy debates is that many of the most important issues we face are technical, complicated and definitely not sexy. A disproportionate number of environmental issues fall into that category.

But just because an issue isn’t easy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a significant impact on our everyday lives. That’s why everyone who lives in Central Indiana and has the time should plan to attend Greening the Statehouse, Indiana’s largest annual gathering of environmental advocates, on Saturday, November 14th, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the University of Indianapolis.

Greening the Statehouse will be keynoted this year by Lisa Evans; I’m told she is America’s most influential advocate for coal ash protections. According to the Hoosier Environmental Council,

Coal ash has special significance for Indiana, since the state leads the nation in the number of coal ash waste lagoons. There is arguably no person better in America to speak to this issue than Lisa Evans. As a coal ash expert with twenty-five years of experience in hazardous waste law, Lisa has testified before the U.S. Congress and the National Academies of Science about the risks of coal ash and federal & state policy solutions.

“Lisa Evans will be an amazing keynote speaker: She is a formidable combination of intellect, knowledge, passion, and heart. We believe that hearts and minds will be changed by her remarks – so important for a state that must grapple with risks posed by having the largest number of coal ash lagoons in America,” said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Greening the Statehouse will also be an opportunity to learn about other (not-so-sexy-but-really-important) environmental issues. Panels will tackle food systems, the quality of our rivers and lakes, and the economic impact of climate change. A former (very good!) student of mine will talk about the role of Chambers of Commerce in fostering environmental sustainability.

High profile panelists include ExactTarget co-founder and Tyner Pond owner Chris Baggott, Vice President of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce Mark Fisher, and Purdue professor & nationally-respected water expert Dr. Jane Frankenberger.

Registration for Greening the Statehouse is $25 general admission and $10 for students. To register, visit Lunch will be provided.

Breathable air, swimmable rivers, drinkable water….the things that make “sexy” possible.