Yes another example of why you must be reading Matt Levine every damned day . . .
The system for pricing prescription drugs in the U.S. is a bit of a disaster. Our reliance on medical insurance means that pricing is not based on consumer demand or ability to pay. Nor is it exactly based on negotiations with insurers: “Medicare, one of the biggest buyers of prescription drugs, is prohibited from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.” The “expensive and time-consumingprocess of getting F.D.A. approval” to sell generic drugs deters competition and allows approved manufacturers to charge whatever prices they want. These are systemic problems, which were created by legislation and regulation, and which demand legislative solutions. So yesterday a House committee convened a hearing to consider these problems and try to come up with a comprehensive solution.
Of course I am kidding; they convened a hearing so they could ask Martin Shkreli about his Wu-Tang album and watch him smirk. He gave good smirk! Everything is fixed now. It turns out that those big drug-pricing problems weren’t systemic problems after all: The real problem was a smirky 32-year-old, and we solved it by yelling at him.
Good work everyone.
To be fair, it’s not just Shkreli. Howard Schiller of Valeant Pharmaceuticals was at the hearing too (here’s his statement), as was a beleaguered Food and Drug Administration official. At one pointthis happened:
Howard Schiller gives names of individuals who made the decision to raise the price of Isuprel. He says he and CEO Michael Pearson were among the individuals who made the decision. Mr. Schiller says he can’t recall how the final decision to raise the prices were made. He says he’ll try to send along a list of individuals who made the decision to increase prices.
Can you imagine? Here is a problem that can actually be dealt with through government action, a problem of systems and rules that were set by Congress and that can be changed by Congress. And here Congresspeople were, talking about the problem. Except that they weren’t. They were yelling at a drug-company executive to give them the names of his employees so they can yell at them too. It’s pure theatrics, but it’s a theater of demonstrating that Congress doesn’t care about fixing the problem. There’s not even a pretense of wanting to help people; it’s just finding someone to yell at, and then yelling at them. At a hearing in a legislature! You’relegislators! Do your jobs! Come on.
There is a more general lesson here. Many bad things are caused by bad systems, not identifiably evil individuals. If you are in charge of the system, you should make it better. But finding an identifiably evil individual — you can identify him by his smirk! — and blaming him for everything is much more emotionally satisfying, and probably a better electoral strategy.
So fn good . . .