The Problem Is Greed

You know there’s something wrong with the way medicine and research are conducted in this country when a 16-year-old kid develops an in-home application for cancer detection that turns out to be 400 times more sensitive and 26,000 times cheaper than current testing technologies.

Give yourself the next five minutes to allow this information to sink in. In the “richest nation in the world”, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t figure this out before some 15 year-old kid decided to get bored enough to go tinkering around with biochemistry—you know for kicks.

Now granted, Jack Andraka is certainly exceptional. But being an exceptionally bright teenager doesn’t quite explain why billions of dollars thrown at cancer “research” and six-digit salaries paid to the purported champions of cancer medicine hasn’t produced a significant breakthrough anyone can readily recall.

Do you like organic fruit? Well you should, because one middle-school student, Ria Chhabra, conducted an experiment with fruit flies which suggests that organic fruit has many more health benefits than fruit grown by conventional industrial farming methods. A MIDDLE-SCHOOL CHILD.  This has got to be getting embarrassing for both healthcare and food industry “experts”

So, why aren’t THESE stories just exploding all over, with billions of donations pouring in for these kids? Why aren’t there political bodies moving to reexamine the integrity of our food and healthcare systems for the benefit of all citizens? Oh wait, that’s right, we’re too busy airing the REAL tragedies of wealthy New Jersey housewives crying over the pocket change they’ll spend to repair damage to their shore homes.

Whenever it is that I feel the need to bring focus to the shady blemishes of the healthcare and food industries, I’m often met with one popular argument that’s puts me—as the whistle blower—in a rather awkward position:

“Well it’s a business, they have to make money”.

This statement is served alongside the casual charge of labeling me a hater of capitalism, or at the very least, an obtuse individual whose ignorance prevents him from understanding the basic principles of private enterprise.

It’s a good strategy to call someone a socialist in the mecca of capitalism; it shifts the focus from logic to dogma, in an environment where emotions run hot with the green blood of U.S. profiteering. Even the modest suggestion that a reduction of bottom lines might do well to serve the whole of society is enough to elicit a conditioned response good enough to behead you for treason.

But when analyzed properly, the businesses-have-to-make-money argument holds little merit, as it narrows the focus of the discussion to mean that challenging the practices of private enterprise means denying it profits. It’s a distortion used to obscure the fact that honest business can certainly be profitable.

It is absolutely the case that honest products can be marketed and sold to a population of consumers for great profits. But more than that, is the expectation that products and services actually benefit consumers, that they meet the needs of the market in a direct and honest way—after all, that’s what the private market economy is supposed to do: meet the needs of consumers.

If the essential health needs of a society require the integrity of organic produce, and a corporate entity hands us genetically modified fruit, technically speaking, the market has not met the needs of our society. Actually, in that scenario, what happens is that the greedy profiteering needs of private enterprise are satisfied at the expense of consumers, who will glean an ever smaller percentage of benefit at a much higher cost. This transfer of responsibility and cost to the consumer is something I’ll discuss in a future article, but in this case, it comes in the form of dollars and health.

What’s important to understand is this: Dishonesty in either the creation or delivery of products and services—whether it means misrepresenting the benefit products offer to consumers, or, the deliberate withholding of technological advancements that would otherwise cut costs and risks to consumers—constitutes a failure of private enterprise to meet the needs of the market.

In fact, with regard to healthcare and food, it’s probably best to adopt a practice of great integrity, as those products and services are meant to bolster and preserve the well-being of a population. That is to say, unlike other private markets of whose engagements are the result of subjective wanting, healthcare and food are basic essentials that are inherently unavoidable. Keeping that in mind should, without fail, cast any and all dishonest practices in these sectors as a deliberate act of exploitation.

There are no true barriers which prevent the honest distribution of goods and services to customers who benefit from their consumption. But what’s often required is an amount of effort and accountability incompatible with the insatiable greed so commonly found in the private sector.

The bottom line is this:

Honest food and medicine are both profitable businesses. The unfortunate thing is that DISHONEST food and medicine are far MORE profitable; the problem is greed.

As I watched the beautiful Jenny McCarthy recount the miraculous recovery of her autistic son, allegedly reversing the symptoms of the disease with dietary changes, I was taken back by the response questions offered by the hostess. According to Jenny, her son had been a normal and healthy child before receiving the MMR vaccine, which she believes was the reason for his autistic diagnosis. After explaining how diet changes, vitamins, and detoxes helped to cure her son, McCarthy was practically interrupted by the hostess who inquired,

“…is there a danger in putting medicine into your own hands, because technically, you’re not a doctor…?”

Now, whether or not Mrs. McCarthy actually witnesses her child being cured of autism is anyone’s guess. But that’s not what interests me; I’m more interested in the reaction of the hostess—a reaction which reflects the silent indoctrination all citizens of this nation are subjected to from birth. Her inquiry is exactly the line of questioning used to discourage the kind of curiosity and exploration that could topple the established order. The message becomes a vehicle for fear which emphasizes the need to trust the status quo of medicine, leaving the entirety of your health in the hands of private industry—because that’s what it is folks, for profit industry.

The framing and tone used by the hostess is one that seeks to perpetuate the power of the healthcare industry and the standards of unquestionable trust needed to convince sick people that “only your doctor knows what’s best for you”. The suggestion that only persons recognized by the established order can have valid contribution to the discussion is completely debunked by a 16-year-old kid who discovered a better way of detecting cancer, and a 26-year-old patent clerk named Albert Einstein who saw the universe more clearly than any other physicist of his time.

When it happens that others challenge my suggestion that a less privatized health and food industries would prove to be more beneficial to society, people talk about incentive and motivation—the most common being that you won’t motivate people to become great doctors if you don’t pay them a lot of money. This, of course, is another silly myth which insists that a single minded pursuit of wealth is the only valid motivator for anyone to be great at anything. What were great people doing before all of this money came into it? A bond salesman used to make 27k a year before the 80’s—yet somehow, the job got done. *shrug* MAGIC I GUESS. 

So what would happen if doctors got paid less, and medicine wasn’t as profitable? Well, for one thing, you’d get doctors who have more passion for the health of patients rather than the financial incentives. You’d also get a healthcare system interested in keeping patients healthy rather than leeching off of their slow, symptomatic deaths.

At some point you’ve got to stop and ask yourself: What are the goals of healthcare and food industries? If the goal is that a population remain healthier, then it’s a conflict of interest that the profitability of the industry be dependent on people staying sicker, longer. If the goal is to make as much money for as long as possible, well then you’ve pretty much painted the exact picture of today’s problems.

Matthew Rosario

American / Writer / Musician

  • Robert H. Woodman

    In the pharmaceutical industry, there are several reasons why innovation is not working. One of them a form of groupthink. All of these bright scientists working together on a project end up following the project lead’s direction, thinking like the project lead, and going down the same path. The more detrimental problem in the pharmaceutical industry is government regulation.

    People around the world recognize that the American FDA is the gold standard to meet for pharmaceutical drugs and medical diagnostic testing. That standard, however, comes at a high price. There is repeated testing, validation of testing, training costs to salespeople on how to sell the test, training costs to doctors and laboratory technicians on how to use the test and read the results. Suppliers of raw materials for the test must be verified. Multiple vendors for each raw material must be found, validated, and certified to meet the minimum standards required to manufacture the test. The final manufacturing steps must be conducted under cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices), which is another gold standard. This standard comes with enormous amounts of paperwork, and there can be serious legal and business penalties for what amount essentially to paperwork errors.

    And let me add that lawyers are involved in every step of these development, validation, and manufacturing processes, and this also adds to the paperwork and the cost of making a new medical diagnostic test or developing a new drug.

    All of this adds quite heavily to the cost of developing tests, let alone pharmaceutical drugs. I imagine that Jack Andraka’s test, if subjected to FDA oversight and scrutiny, would probably only be a few hundred times cheaper than other tests, assuming (it’s NOT a given) that the FDA would accept a new technology for testing.

    You see, the FDA doesn’t like novel technology. They may (and do) accept new technology ideas, but they put these novel ideas through a more stringent testing and validation regimen than technology that’s already been tested and accepted. That drives up the cost for the manufacturer. Moreover, it makes pharmaceutical and medical diagnostic companies much more averse to exploring new ideas, because they know how much harder it will be to get a new technology accepted by the FDA.

    Is there too much profit in the medical diagnostics and pharmaceutical industries? Perhaps. On the other hand, it is expensive to develop new medicines and new diagnostic tests to the standards the FDA requires. Pharmaceutical companies follow lots of rabbit trails in pursuit of new drugs and new tests, but they come back with extraordinarily few rabbits that meet the regulators’ requirements. All of those false trails must be paid for out of the profits of the few rabbits that are deemed acceptable. If you want less profit in the pharmaceutical industry, you may need to settle for less well-regulated drugs. Less well-regulated drugs, however, will result in more lawsuits, and more lawsuits will drive up the costs of medicine, but instead of the profits going to greedy pharmaceutical industry executives, they will go to lawyers instead. Will that make YOU feel better? It won’t make ME feel better.

    • Robert, I’d first like to thank you for taking the time to read this post, and then again, for providing a thorough response.

      That being said, the details you focused on concerning the costs of developing drugs and diagnostic testing–while certainly a factor in the development of good healthcare–have often proven to be the case regarding superfluous pharmaceutical remedies dictated by an evolution of medical diagnostic material which has been influenced and therefore molded by private industry. The founder and champion of ADHD, Leon Eisenberg, admitted that the diagnosis was, indeed, entirely fictitious. This is an important realization, because the presumption reflected in your rebuttal is one that assumes the pharmaceutical industry is a completely separate entity from government regulation, having no significant influence on its regulatory principals. This, I assure you sir, is not the case. What you describe as a rigorous process for the regulation of pharmaceutical drugs, has indeed been profoundly impacted by the influence of private pharmaceutical industry. This connection becomes as simple and frightening as pharmaceutical industry players, later becoming players of power in many significant roles of the FDA. What’s more is that approval times for new drugs have significantly been produced due to pressure from the drug industry. For instance, the Prescription Drug User Free Act of 1992, the pharmaceutical industry was allowed to pay in order to speed up the process of a drugs approval to only 16 months.

      Your implication is that the FDA needs to relax rules and regulations in order to bring down the cost for the pharmaceutical industries. That is an appalling proposition to me. The rules and regulations of the FDA are there to serve in the best interest of the people, not the bottom lines of the drug industry. Your assumption, like most conservatives, is that if we simply made it less expensive for the industry they would cut customers a break on the cost–essentially a “trickle-down-effect”. Yet, what most champions of this thinking fail to even mention is that the industry doesn’t HAVE to do anything. There is nothing to prevent the drug industry from taking advantage of relaxed regulations to push through more superfluous drugs, and then simply pocketing the savings from the difference in the cost to develop their products. It’s the same argument every time, “make things easier for private industry and they’ll cut everyone a break”, but that’s never been the case, EVER. If given the chance to make more profit, the industry takes it regardless of the adverse implications such actions have for the population it serves. That’s what private industry does; it satisfies shareholders. This is precisely the reason FDA regulations need to remain costly and strict, as publicly voted and paid for entities meant to represent citizens, ensuring that they do not become consumer slaves at the will of a private industry that essentially has no responsibility to them.

      You say that only a few “rabbits” make it past regulatory approval, and that someone has to pay for it. Well, not the consumer in my book. If you don’t want to spend money to make money in the delicate business that is healthcare, a service industry that is an essential pillar of civilization, then go home and do something else. The safety of people’s lives cost a lot, and if you’re in the business of serving the best interest of the people, you accept these costs. Too much of the dialogue about the cost of safe drugs falls on the victimization of the industry. If they have money set aside to pay fine for safety violations, they can certainly pay to ensure they their drugs are safe and meet the requirements of the industry. But we keep trying to pawn off the responsibility of bad medicine onto the consumer. We are not scientists. We are not doctors. Why is it our responsibility to pay for bad science and the cost to the drug industry? That’s their responsibility. That’s like if a business had to pay millions of dollars due to tax fraud or negligence and then raised their prices in order to cover the costs. It’s not the responsibility of the consumer to offset the costs that are known to companies getting into the business of drugs. We cannot ask the least capable and most vulnerable parties (citizens and consumers) to absorb costs which pose a far less threat to the industry if they are asked to cut their bottom lines.

      Again, it’s not that the pharmaceutical industry should be denied profits of their work. But the assumption inherent in the dialogue of conservative capitalism is that companies can’t survive under more regulation and costs. This of course is silly. With record profits every year, and continued bonuses and salary increases, it is absurd to even suggest that companies would be put out of business by accepting a greater responsibility to the society that they serve, and which serves them. The issue is that there is great incentive to participate in deceitful and misleading practices that lead to greater and greater profits at the cost of a population’s health and entire livelihood. This is absolutely shameful. What we’re also talking about here is the question of private industry’s responsibility to the society it serves. There are those that would claim that such entities, protected under the liberties of capitalism, owe nothing to the people they serve aside from the products they provide. It is precisely this kind of rationale which perpetuates unlawful and detrimental practices which end up hurting the health and financial stability of those it serves. A couple of million dollars in fines isn’t going to undo the collateral financial, emotional, and cultural damage which is so deeply inextricable from the crucial nature of healthcare. If you acquire enough power to influence the thinking, economy, and fears of an entire generation through the influence of money and policies–there’s no undoing of that, as the flow of capital dollars and mental energy of an entire generation cannot be withdrawn from the investment in an idea once planted merely for the single-minded goal of profit.

      So, I humbly disagree with you sir. There is certainly enough capital in private drug industries to cut costs to consumers while provided them with a reasonable standard of safety. And again, I restate the theme of this post; honest business is profitable; dishonest business is just MORE profitable. The real issue we’re contending here is who should absorb the costs: consumers, to whom such a cost has the potential to destroy but help no one, or private industry, to which the cost would only require that they accept slightly less profits–an end which would greatly benefit the health and wellbeing of society at large. I don’t see how the choice is even debatable.

      • Robert H. Woodman

        Matt,

        Thank you also for taking the time to respond in such depth to my reply. I will begin by acknowledging the obvious — we disagree, which is NOT to say that we can’t learn from one another, but is to say that while you argue your position well, you have not yet convinced me of its ultimate merit.

        I also want to clarify something in my response that you appear to have misunderstood.I did not in any way intend to give the impression that I thought less regulation by the FDA was appropriate. I was (I thought) merely pointing out that all of the regulations that the FDA applies to pharmaceutical and medical diagnostics companies imposes a hefty burden of time, human labor, and ultimately monetary cost, because human labor is one of the largest and most important recurring costs in scientific research. That cost has to be borne by someone. In a free market society, that “someone” is going to be the consumer.

        I do think that the FDA ought to be open to more to novel technology, because their resistance to adoption of new technology is one of the things that slows genuine innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, novel technology offers potential cost savings. On the other hand, I understand the reluctance to accept completely new ways of doing things because there are more than a few charlatans and a few outright crackpots and cranks who consistently try to get around the system (I’ll not name names, because it might stimulate the crackpots and cranks to begin writing to me ) with some “breakthrough” idea or technology.

        I also have no sympathy with pharmaceutical companies that hide trial data that hurts their bottom lines. Good (as in high quality and also as in ethical) science requires transparency and honesty. Transparency and honesty require disclosure of ALL data, good, bad, and indifferent.

        I am a scientist, Matt. I don’t work in the pharmaceutical industry, but I work for a company that sells into the pharmaceutical and medical diagnostics industries. Our products are costly to make (again, human capital), but the improvements they effect are dramatic. We struggle constantly to make money. We aren’t VC funded. We make our money off our catalog sales. All of our customers want a discounted price, and I understand that, but if we cut too much, we cease to do business. That means that the consumer ultimately will bear the cost of having our products included in their medicines and/or medical diagnostic tests. But because those medicines and tests will be better, more effective, more accurate, and more beneficial to the consumer, I really don’t have a problem with that. In addition, if we can make a profit, we can hire more scientists to do more work to develop newer and better products — and our products ARE better. Finally, I do need to eat, pay my utilities, and pay my mortgage.

        Again, thanks for your response, but you haven’t convinced me of the ultimate merits of your position.

  • Robert H. Woodman

    Matt,

    Thank you also for taking the time to respond in such depth to my reply. I will begin by acknowledging the obvious — we disagree, which is NOT to say that we can't learn from one another, but is to say that while you argue your position well, you have not yet convinced me of its ultimate merit.

    I also want to clarify something in my response that you appear to have misunderstood.I did not in any way intend to give the impression that I thought less regulation by the FDA was appropriate. I was (I thought) merely pointing out that all of the regulations that the FDA applies to pharmaceutical and medical diagnostics companies imposes a hefty burden of time, human labor, and ultimately monetary cost, because human labor is one of the largest and most important recurring costs in scientific research. That cost has to be borne by someone. In a free market society, that "someone" is going to be the consumer.

    I do think that the FDA ought to be open to more to novel technology, because their resistance to adoption of new technology is one of the things that slows genuine innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, novel technology offers potential cost savings. On the other hand, I understand the reluctance to accept completely new ways of doing things because there are more than a few charlatans and a few outright crackpots and cranks who consistently try to get around the system (I'll not name names, because it might stimulate the crackpots and cranks to begin writing to me ) with some "breakthrough" idea or technology.

    I also have no sympathy with pharmaceutical companies that hide trial data that hurts their bottom lines. Good (as in high quality and also as in ethical) science requires transparency and honesty. Transparency and honesty require disclosure of ALL data, good, bad, and indifferent.

    I am a scientist, Matt. I don't work in the pharmaceutical industry, but I work for a company that sells into the pharmaceutical and medical diagnostics industries. Our products are costly to make (again, human capital), but the improvements they effect are dramatic. We struggle constantly to make money. We aren't VC funded. We make our money off our catalog sales. All of our customers want a discounted price, and I understand that, but if we cut too much, we cease to do business. That means that the consumer ultimately will bear the cost of having our products included in their medicines and/or medical diagnostic tests. But because those medicines and tests will be better, more effective, more accurate, and more beneficial to the consumer, I really don't have a problem with that. In addition, if we can make a profit, we can hire more scientists to do more work to develop newer and better products — and our products ARE better. Finally, I do need to eat, pay my utilities, and pay my mortgage.

    Again, thanks for your response, but you haven't convinced me of the ultimate merits of your position.

  • Rick

    What is the definition of “greed”? And did this kid fund all of this research out of his own pocket?

  • Rick

    What is the definition of "greed"? And did this kid fund all of this research out of his own pocket?

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