In the early 1900s, thousands of Americans died of or suffered from the polio virus. Researcher John Salk developed a lifesaving vaccine for the disease in 1953, but refused to patent his treatment, as he believed it belonged to the public. Selfless acts, such as those carried out by Salk, seem rare today in the pharmaceutical industry. The Department of Justice has recently cracked down on numerous accounts of corruption and uncovered one corporation’s illegal attempt to funnel money from the Caring Voice Coalition charity. The donations served as a conduit for covering the copays of Medicare patients to attract consumers to United Therapeutics Corporation (UT) while they raised the prices of their treatments at the expense of the insurance program and, ultimately, taxpayers. The biotech company agreed to pay a $210 million settlement to resolve the claim.
UT is also facing accusations that they did not permit financially disadvantaged individuals to the free drug program, but rather referred them to Caring Voice Coalition for financial gain. The DOJ explains that the corporation was in continuous communication with the charity to track the amount expended per patient and decipher the sums essential for further donations. Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division announced:
“While we support efforts to provide patients with access to needed medications, such assistance must comply with federal law. Today’s settlement shows that the government will hold accountable drug companies that attempt to use illegal kickbacks to defeat mechanisms Congress designed to act as a check on drug pricing and healthcare costs.”
The claims against the corporation would not mark their first occurrence of controversy. According to the Washington Business Journal, UT’s Adcirca tablets comprise one-quarter of their total revenue. Recently, the FDA extended the patent on Adcirca by six months, which in effect disallowed the production of cheaper generic versions. Without the threat of competition, UT immediately increased the price of the pills by approximately 2%. Although businesses aim to maximize profits, the actions by United Therapeutics may leave many Americans suffering from potentially fatal illnesses unable to afford their prescriptions.
The deceitful actions are immensely harmful to our country’s citizens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 – 15% of adults do not refill their prescriptions due to the high costs. The data is higher for those with cancer, as about 25% are unable to purchase their medications, according to Liberty Nation.
Furthermore, the DOJ has subpoenaed various other pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc. for also supporting charities offering assistance for copays. Within the past year, the government has run numerous analyses, leading to startling findings. In fact, Liberty Nation reported the most massive health care crackdown last July when an estimated $1.3 billion in false insurance claims were billed to Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary treatments that distributed opioid painkillers to addicted patients. Among the 412 arrested in the investigation were 115 physicians.
Unlike the selflessness displayed by the founder of the polio vaccine, the fraud and price hikes allegedly performed by United Therapeutics are detrimental to the lives of Americans. With the continued action of the DOJ to continuously monitor possible deception, this may not be the last we hear of such scandals.