The New York Times recently reported the purchase of an antiviral drug by an ex-hedge fund manager would lead to an increase in cost from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill, a 5,500 percent increase. The drug, Daraprim, is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause severe and/or life-threatening complications for people with compromised immune systems, including patients with AIDS and certain cancers. Adding insult to injury, Martin Shkreli, CEO and founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals, the company that bought Daraprim, then unleashed a set of Tweets flaunting both his wealth and indifference for those who will not be able to afford the hike in costs. While the fierce backlash has Shkreli reconsidering this hike in price, companies like Turing are signaling what could be the beginning of a much larger problem, particularly for the African-American community.
The cost of prescription drugs are constantly on the rise, however, what Turing proposed would have been one of the largest increases in years and would have have had a direct impact on the poor. Most insurance companies will not foot the cost of drugs over $700 per pill and will likely seek out other, less expensive treatments. Some consumers are worried this will become an ongoing problem if other pharmaceutical companies follow suit and buy the rights to medications for diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic illnesses that disproportionately affect African-Americans. If companies like Turing begin buying drugs like synthetic insulin and Metformin, both used to treat diabetes, some who cannot afford their medications may cut back on the appropriate dosage and suffer other problems with circulation, nerve damage, and vision disturbances.
African-Americans, particularly those without prescription drug coverage, the poor and the elderly, are more likely to stop taking their medications when they cannot afford them, putting their health at even greater risk. These risks lead to complications and conditions that are more costly than the initial treatment. Currently, 1 in 5 American families now face bankruptcy due to medical expenses. However, according to a 2013 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study, nearly 1 in 4 African-American families are experiencing financial distress to due to the costs of much needed prescription drugs while 1 in 3 are still struggling to pay medical and hospital bills from last year. In a time where most American families are just one disaster away from complete financial ruin, if what happened with Daraprim becomes a trend, the African-American community, which has recovered the slowest from the economic downturn, will not only be hit the hardest financially, but will see an increase in poorer health outcomes as well.