Local view: Ruthless corporate greed the biggest threat to our capitalistic systemAllow me to propose a hypothetical situation.
By: Dr. Joseph F. Just, Duluth News Tribune
Allow me to propose a hypothetical situation.
Let’s say you are on the top floor of a three-story building, and the lower floors are engulfed in raging flames. You are at a window fronting the street screaming for help. In a few moments, I just happen to drive by in my new, expensive pickup with a rack on top, on which I have a long, sturdy extension ladder. I will stop there, of course, seeing your plight, and offer to rescue you from a certain unpleasant death. But I shout up that I am going to charge you $2,500 for use of my ladder.
What would you do? You’d agree, of course, because the alternative is decidedly unpleasant.
So up goes the ladder and down you climb, unharmed, whole and hearty. I ask for my fee for saving your life with my ladder, and you agree to pay up as soon as possible because you are a person of honor, integrity and responsibility. Also, $2,500 doesn’t seem like too much for your life.
But what would you, and perhaps your family and friends, think of me? I can’t answer for you, of course, but I suspect that in addition to being grateful for your life you might well regard me as unconscionably callous and greedy.
I think you would be right.
Like many, many others, I find myself in a somewhat similar situation.
About four or five years ago, I was diagnosed with a disease called chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML. Like other leukemia, it is a malignant disease, a cancer of the blood, so to speak, and, untreated, nearly always fatal within a few years. Though not very common, it is not a rare disease. The incidence is about 1.6 cases per 100,000 people per year or, in the U.S., about 4.8 million new cases a year. So it is not an “orphan disease” with just a few patients in need of treatment with an “orphan drug.”
That sounds mighty grim, but there is a very bright side. In 2001, the FDA approved a new drug for the treatment of CML called Gleevec. It is indeed a “magic bullet,” a drug that treats the disease at the molecular level, correcting the precise biochemical abnormality that causes the overgrowth of abnormal white blood cells that characterizes CML. And it does so without affecting healthy cells or tissues. This was such a remarkable therapeutic achievement when it was new, Gleevec was featured on the cover of Time magazine. It also is used for a few other diseases, but it is best known for its remarkable efficacy in CML.
Within a few months of starting treatment with Gleevec my blood count returned to normal and has remained so. The CML, though still present, is undetectable. That is, it is in total clinical and molecular remission. Though there are a few mildly or moderately unpleasant side effects, I am, in a sense, cured. When I started on this treatment regimen, my hematologist rightly indicated that in all likelihood I would die with CML and not from CML. Indeed, research indicates that about 95 percent of patients survive eight years.
For this remarkable drug and its benefits I and probably 1 million or more others are supremely grateful. It has saved our lives.
But here is the catch. The drug is obscenely and unconscionably costly. My last prescription in July (30 tablets at one each day) cost $6,993.32. Of this, Medicare paid all but $305.94, which I paid. You, dear readers, paid the rest. And this is every month and for millions of patients. Three hundred-plus every month is a lot of money, but it’s at least marginally affordable for some patients — while not at all affordable for many more.
I am firmly and irrevocably committed to our capitalistic system, but if it fails it is going to be largely because of ruthless corporate greed, as evidenced and epitomized by the exorbitant price of Gleevec — and scores of other drugs, some of which have been available for decades.
Something like my $2,500 extension ladder.
Originally of suburban Chicago, Dr. Joseph F. Just is retired and has been living near Ely since 1993.