The Western way of life, as we know it in Europe, the USA and other capitalist countries with which we share a certain social and economic structure, is being strongly influenced by the law of supply and demand that is occurring around us and in which we feel part of. The liberalization of markets, as well as the promotion of private initiatives, have paved the way for the development of an increasingly demanding and competitive society. We have reached unprecedented levels of technological development and are now able to offer multiple services that affect people’s quality of life.
It is a fact that, in terms of this economic progress, the population’s accessibility to certain services is not being made uniformly; in some cases, it has even not yet been made possible. The passage of time gives more visibility within our capitalist society to an ever-increasing division between social classes and different socioeconomic levels. Thus, the richer classes benefit more by disadvantaging those with fewer resources in this advance.
This ever existing division, which, far from being reduced, increases over the years, is faced with a question of moral origin at a time when the exercise of fundamental human rights such as the right to security, education, housing and, of course, health is prevented. Even so, the campaigns created for social assistance are to be welcomed because they significantly help the underprivileged classes, while the challenge of how to exercise health care continues to arouse many controversies among the more developed countries.
Following the implementation of national health systems, the need to follow shared lines of research in order to promote a healthier society, capable of using technological advances for the well-being of the entire world population, was recognized on several occasions. One example was the Ottawa Conference, organized in 1986 by the WHO (World Health Organization) and the government of Canada, in which delegates from 38 member countries participated, including Spain and the USA. The agreement reached at this summit stressed the need to promote health and quality of life in the world’s population. The results were achieved through national policies and continued to be structured through health care systems with different characteristics.
These health systems, as we know them today, can be generalized by dividing them into private, public and mixed, according to the type of financing, the coverage, the eligibility of the doctor, the type and degree of participation in the cost on the part of the patient and the method of remuneration to the professionals who apply it.
Spain, together with most European states, developed its national health system based on the universal right of its citizens, on the assistance and prevention of illness and on the promotion of health. This model, which receives almost exclusively state funding (citizens’ taxes), allows its users access to health care regardless of their economic resources, cultures, ethnicities, religions or other characteristics, ensuring equal treatment. Although it determines a great economic commitment on the part of the State, it allows all citizens to have free access to the health care they need without the need to seek a balance between their requests for health and their financial resources.
The situation is different in those countries in which a private health system was implemented and is maintained, the most significant example of which is undoubtedly the USA. It is here where the law of demand and supply flow are hidden from all morals, determining medical care as a privilege for those who can afford it and not a right.
This system provides great benefits at the national economic level, favoring the development and growth of health insurance, commercial pharmaceuticals, hospitals and private care centers, which charge significant amounts to their clients (patients) to cover certain aspects of their individual health and thus increasing market revenues due to the disease.
On the other hand, this type of system causes numerous problems for those citizens who have more difficulties to insure themselves, increasing a greater social inequality. In recent years, the US system has continued to be the subject of speculation with regards its future and, although it has many detractors, there are forces that advocate for it and keep it going. An example of this can be found in international pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Illy and Co., Novo Nordisk and Sanofi Aventis, which are among the largest producers of insulin in the world and which operate by dividing up a large part of the market for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, which affects 1.2 million people in the USA alone. The three, among others, raised annual insulin treatment prices from $2,864 in 2012 to $5,705 in 2016, maintaining the price increase until today. It is very significant how the increase in the price of insulin has almost doubled over the past 25 years.
Another recent example was given on February 4, 2019, when Catalyst Pharmaceutical was heavily criticized by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for having decided to charge $375,000 a year for the production of a drug, Firdapse, needed to treat Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, a very rare neuromuscular disease whose drug had been provided free of charge for several years up to this point.
We can therefore see that, there are industries such as medicine and pharmaceuticals behind the health system whose aim is to earn money themselves at all costs. In this way, they force patients to consume health at exaggerated prices and even perpetuate, if necessary, disease through the sale of innovative recycled medicines. These drugs –far from providing any improvement in the treatment of their patients’ pathologies– contribute to increasing the marketing of “the newest and most technological products”, going back to the argument that their main raison d’être is their own profit.
This inflation is exaggerated if we take into account the growth in gross domestic product per capita and the fact that the minimum wage of an active professional is growing at much slower levels.
The question we ask ourselves is: To what extent does economic profit have to take precedence over citizens’ welfare and morals? We must remember that when money takes precedence over values, the system becomes corrupt and meaningless, we move away from the welfare of the community and inequalities increase.
The above examples are only a few where it is shown that in cases where the pharmaceutical industry is not specifically controlled and regulated by governments, collective health will continue to be undermined.
We must understand that pharmaceutical companies face significant financing costs to put their products on the market, under strict government control and increasing demands due to competition and growing technological innovation.
It is necessary to raise citizens’ awareness and exercise the right to better health care, understanding that it is impossible for individuals to control health and illness completely without professional help. Alongside this, synergic action must be ensured on the part of governments that want to act through appropriate policies that allow, at the same time, increased economic and technological growth. And that also allow universal and equitable access to the health system thanks to their influence on the companies producing health products and their capacity to implement efficient infrastructures.
We European citizens must place greater value on the importance of our public systems and be proud of them, defending them and continuously improving them for the benefit of the community.