why the medical world apparently hates money

How do we make sense of the alt med claim that Big Pharma is just trying to keep people sick for a profit?

holding pill bottle

Over the last few years, there’s been something about a persistent claim by alt med mavens that I can’t really grasp, the claim that pharmaceutical companies will go out of their way to crush cures for whatever ails you to keep you sick and draining you of cash by selling more and more useless medication. Why does it puzzle me despite being so straightforward? Well, because if it were true, it would imply that either Big Pharma or those who dispense alternative treatments aren’t interested in making money, or avoid making as much as they can despite having all the incentive to earn more, an arrangement which makes no sense from any angle. Simply put, if money being involved in medicine gives the seller an incentive to keep a buyer sick, one of our actors will need to become a charity to stay consistent with its stated mission to heal the sick and the other will be stuck saying no to every new innovation promising a cure for a complex and widespread disease or cut costs with a revolutionary new scientific breakthrough, forfeiting the billions to be gained. Something’s definitely off here…

Let’s say that you’re an executive at a pharmaceutical company and you’ve been presented with a proposal to invest in a promising new method of suppressing cancerous tumors, and then recycling this technology for a whole new set of other treatments along the way. Considering that you have to custom-tailor it to the different types of cancers out there, you may be looking at hundreds of targeted drugs coming from one pipeline, and if they use the same delivery mechanism such as siRNA, or specialized nano-particles, you could expedite your required FDA approval based on your prior work and save billions in the process. It takes around $1 billion as well as about a decade of trial and error to go from a new chemical in a Petri dish to a treatment prescribed by doctors as a standard of care. Embracing this new technology would save you billions of dollars, shave years off a complex and very involved process, and bring in tens, if not hundreds, of billions in profits. Are you going to reject this proposal because you believe that once you deliver a cure for a disease, they can never, ever get sick again and that they won’t just give up if your treatments don’t improve their health? A longer life is going to mean more sales in the long run, and more cures mean more patients seeking your help.

On the other side of the argument, let’s pretend that you’re not one of those greedy Big Pharma vampires who live on human misery and childrens’ tears, but a caring, misunderstood genius who has a cure for an illness in some laboratory ran either by you or your friends. If your mission is to heal people, why are you selling cure after cure instead of just giving them away and soliciting donations from private charities? All right, all right, it’s not like manufacturing your nostrums and potions and pills costs you nothing, I understand. But if you’re either a homeopath or follow homeopathic principles, you should be able to use potentization to make your cures for spare change per ton, since you’re somehow unable to sell your technique to a pharmaceutical company that will now only need one plant to supply the entire world, and want to heal the sick a lot more than you care about becoming a billionaire. Or if you use natural remedies, you should be able to tell people where to find a certain leaf or plant and how to make the appropriate mixture or pill themselves, releasing this information for free because you’re better and more noble than those craven pharmaceutical giants, right? You can’t just rake in tens of billions of dollars a year and scream bloody murder when asked to get a license because it may cut into your profit margin! You’re a healer, not an executive focused on the bottom line.

However, we do know that alternative medicine is usually picked after the primary round of conventional drugs either fail to work, are prescribed incorrectly, or don’t meet a patient’s expectations. And we also know that the treatments themselves are not covered by insurance companies, allowing more cash to go directly into an alt med provider’s pocket since they don’t have negotiate their prices down after some serious talks with the likes of a multi-billion dollar giant like Anthem, Humana, or Aetna. We also know they they don’t give away their pills and drinks, and that homeopathic cold and flu remedies will cost you about twice as much as a conventional, off-brand, over-the-counter medication for the same purpose, and they don’t even have to comply by any FDA rules and perform expensive clinical studies showing safety and efficacy. All that would mean that your alt med provider has just as much of an incentive to keep his patients sick as a pharmaceutical executive going by the same logic here. To undermine that argument, we would have to break the rule of casting the sale of a treatment to be an incentive for keeping patients sick, but that would now mean that Big Pharma has no more interest in undermining their patients’ health for profit. Unless of course we apply a double standard for these scenarios and insist that Big Pharma is always evil and alt med is always saintly regardless of logic.

# health // alternative medicine / big pharma / business


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