No Surprise: Big Pharma Takes A Big Chunk of Health Care Industry Profits

It might come as no big surprise to hear that pharmaceutical companies earn most of the profits in the health care industry, but a new study has investigated just how much.  And despite what might seem an obvious conclusion, the results are still pretty shocking—and certainly has dire implications for the average American. 

The study indicates that more than half of all profits made in the health care industry went to the top 10 companies who made the list. And of those, 90 percent were drug manufacturers.  Perhaps more important—or upsetting, depending on how you look at it—the highest-profiting companies in the medical industry were Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson (at $4.2 billion, $3.9 billion, and $3.7 billion, respectively). 

That means of the 10 highest grossing companies in the health care industry, the top 2 were drug companies; as were about half the rest of the field. 

As frustrating as this is, it is not even all that surprising.  In fact, industry experts remind that the American health care industry does not have strict rules—if any at all, really—restricting the level of profit that is acceptable for a drug company to make.  And, of course, we know that prices continue to go up—which, to be fair, is in line with the increase in specialty drug products—but regulations about price and generic competition seem to be scarce. 

In the meantime, nearly 90 percent of the United States (that is 44 states) have joined in a single class-action antitrust lawsuit which accuses 20 drug makers—this includes Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceuticals—of price fixing on at least 100 generic drugs in a broad—perhaps even industry-wide—conspiracy.

Of course, Americans have good reason to be concerned about even the slightest price increases.  Nearly 50 percent of the American population has, reportedly, used at least one prescription drug in the last month, between 2015 and 2016. According to recent data collected by the United States National Center for Health Statistics, this is only a slight decrease from the 48.3 percent of consistent prescription medicine use in America, ten years ago.   On the other hand, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that US prescription drug spending, per person, ballooned from $90 to $1,025 between 1960 and 2017 (adjusting for inflation).