At 26 years old, I took a free blood test at an LGBT health center. I never expected that the test would simultaneously save my life and bankrupt me. Four years later—as we face a global pandemic that has overwhelmed our country—I now not only worry about my ability to afford my medicine, but also about whether I will be able to afford a COVID-19 vaccination or treatments should I need them.
After my blood test in 2016, a clinic nurse called and frantically told me unexpected news: It turned out that I had an incurable cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). As I tried to absorb my life-altering diagnosis, I found out my medication, Gleevec, would cost $150,000 per year. I had no way to pay $150,000 each year for the treatment that would save my life, particularly in addition to my many other daily medications that made life manageable.
This is the system the pharmaceutical industry has built, and we’ve allowed it. But now that we’re facing a global pandemic, we must ensure that when a COVID-19 vaccination becomes available, it must be affordable for all Americans. That means the government must take action to break monopolies on pharmaceutical patents to stop price gouging of life-saving drugs like COVID-19 treatments and like my daily medication.
Until you have received a diagnosis that changes your entire outlook on life, it is hard to reconcile the importance of pharmaceutical affordability, whether it be for CML or COVID-19. For myself and many others, it is the difference between life and death. A difference that is too often out of reach for Americans. Trump doesn't have to pay for his COVID-19 treatments, but the rest of us are not so lucky.
Prior to receiving my diagnosis, I had just moved back to California from New York, where I planned to return to school and earn my degree. However, I am no longer able to attend school or work a full-time job given my medication’s side effects that disrupt my daily life, such as muscle cramping, swollen joints, vomiting, hot flashes and night sweats—but these symptoms are the price I must pay in order to live.
The price I shouldn’t pay: $150,000 per year to take a medicine that costs the pharmaceutical industry only $159 per year, or $0.44 per pill. 1,000 times more than the drug actually costs. SEE HERE
For those of us with preexisting conditions and regular medications, we’ve known the pain of pharmaceutical price-gouging personally since our diagnoses. But soon all Americans will feel this wealth extraction pain if the Trump Administration doesn’t use a law at their disposal called Government Patent Use to break pharmaceutical monopolies on drug patents on treatments now, and future vaccines.
The Trump Administration talks a big game about lowering drug pricings, and it’s time for them to follow through. If they don’t, Americans will be left to the whims of whatever the pharmaceutical industry chooses to charge each of us for life-saving drugs—like my cancer medication—meaning public health at large will pay the consequences when we fail to reach herd immunity.
Contributing Editor: Steven Martin
31 year old Steven Martin from Los Angeles is battling a chronic leukemia. After his diagnosis, he became heavily involved with advocacy on health & LGBTQ issues after learning his chemo pill cost $146,000/yr.