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Reader: Health care is not a market choice — it's absolutely essential

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Drug prices are outrageously high in America because the U.S. government patent process allows corporations to maintain monopolies on new, essential, and sometimes life-saving medications.

Corporations have a single, sworn duty: To maximize shareholder profits. This means raising prices as high as possible for maximum returns, regardless of the impact on people's lives.

Consider the case of the giant pharmaceutical company, Gilead:

Gilead acquired the patent on a Hepatitis C drug that was developed using taxpayer money. It could be produced at a cost of $400 per course of treatment, but Gilead charged $84,000, and only a fraction of the 3 million people with Hepatitis C could come up with the money. Among those who did, many suffered devastating financial hardships. Many who were unable to pay became disabled. Some died. The strategy worked well — for Gilead, at least.

Consumers are at an enormous disadvantage when something essential is owned by a monopoly. They have no choice and must pay whatever the monopoly demands. Society has long recognized that monopolies that provide essential services must be regulated to protect consumers from extreme prices. Public utility commissions set fair prices for monopolies that provide water, sewer, electricity and natural gas.

And like utilities, health care is not a market choice — it's absolutely essential for all of us.

It is wrong that insurance plans and public health programs can be drained of funds that are needed for other people's health care to cover extortionate drug prices.

A Patented Medication Pricing Commission — like those that have been effective in other countries, such as Canada — could set fair prices that reward innovation and protect consumers. Drug companies should never have been given the right to charge anything they want. It's time to change the process to one that is fair, effective, proven and reasonable.

— Ivan Miller, Executive Director, Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care

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