Friday, April 23, 2010

Lipitor - another sign of a completely borken market

Atorvastatin, a.k.a Lipitor, is the best-selling drug in history.  Annual sales are nearly $13B.

Lipitor is a great drug, and it probably saves a lot of lives.  The patent expires next June, so expect to hear how a slightly reformulated Lipitor is actually much better for you over the next year.

Since I'm paying my own health insurance costs these days, I got quite the shock in January when I had to meet the deductible for my meds.  For the first time in ten years of taking Lipitor, I actually tried to find out how much it cost.

Walgreens wasn't allowed to tell me how much it cost.  But they wanted to!  And since I already knew the scam, no harm was done.

You can look this up yourself, on  100 Lipitor pills @ 20mg costs $415.  Guess how much 100 pills @ 40mg costs?  $415.  And the 80mg?  Yup, $415.  I could have been saving about $1200/year by chopping 80mg pills into 10 or 20mg pills.  (Since the half-life of atorvastatin is only about 24 hours, it would probably be a bad idea to take a larger dose every other day).

The kind folks at Walgreens pointed out that some insurance companies actually require their customers to get the higher dose pills and chop them up.  But nobody designs a pill to be chopped into 8 pieces.

Pfizer considers chopping up the pills to be a form of 'cheating'.  From their point of view (and I have some sympathy with it), they are renting you their intellectual property, and in a way that doesn't discriminate against people who need higher doses.

Understand, my complaint here isn't about Pfizer's pricing strategy.  My complaint is that the vast majority of people taking Lipitor have no idea how wildly expensive it is, and that there's a simple way to cut the price down to a small fraction.  Most of those people just don't care.  And that is what is broken in the health care market.  That simple problem explains most of the unsustainable rise in health care costs.

Now for the kicker... you can buy generic atorvastatin from overseas pharmacies for a fraction of the cost of Pfizer's product.  A sample price - $75 for 100@20mg.  That's actually less than my co-payment through my insurance company.  Prices will plummet further by next year.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tea Party Freaks

I don't know anything about the Tea Party.  Their website claims three tenets: Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, and Free Markets.  As a libertarian, I couldn't be tickled any pinker by the idea that a huge movement has embraced half of my political ideology.

But everything I see in the news and on the net seems to be making fun of them, and some of this criticism is pretty ugly.  I'm looking at you, John Stewart.

When I was involved with protesting Gulf War I, I spent a lot of time around protesters on the left.  Yup, I was one of them.  I was even kind of involved in organizing some of it.  One of the things you could count on with any protest was the Freaks.  We had some freaks.  And it was a little annoying to me, since I wanted to get my freak on, but when a TV camera scans over you and your pals, the marijuana-leaf t-shirts, giant pink afros, conspiracy nuts, and wide-eyed crystal-worshiping space aliens, you can fall a little off message.

To combat this, at one protest (in front of an Orlando TV station, for sponsoring a "bring your kids to visit the Patriot Missile and crew" event...) I even wore a suit jacket and a tie.

I suspect there are a few suit-and-tie folks at the Tea Party protests wishing that the tiny fraction of 'birthers', racists, and red-baiting nutjobs would stop drawing attention away from their main point: that  the government and the tax burden are growing unsustainably, and that a massive expansion in health care smack in the middle of the worst economic crisis in generations might not be the best idea.

Hey, you know how it makes you feel when someone calls you a 'socialist' for supporting health care reform?  Yeah.  That's how the tea party people probably feel when you portray them as illiterate racist rednecks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

why you don't want network neutrality

It's nice to go down to the grocery store and buy a loaf of fancy whole-grain organic unbleached homeopathic artisan bread.  But sitting a couple shelves lower is the wonder bread, at a fraction of the price.

Advocates of "network neutrality" want you to believe that wonder bread will kill you, and want to make everything but the fancy whole-grain bread illegal.  That means fifth-grade kids will have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on 'ferrari bread'.

Let me explain the difference between the breads.  See, about 90% of the bandwidth on a network like Comcast's is used by something like 1% of their customers.  Those customers are almost certainly using bittorrent to exchange  huge media files, much of it (though not all) illegal copying.  The other 99% of customers are paying for all the extra infrastructure needed to support this.

Comcast (or any other high-speed ISP) would love to segregate those customers out, and offer a cheaper product to the masses.  Right now they achieve this partially by filtering or slowing down the traffic used by the gluttons.  But if 'network neutrality' laws are passed,  Comcast won't have that option.  They'll be forced to feed the gluttons from everyone else's wallet.

Yes, I hear ya.  I know, yeah... big bad corporations are going to block protocols that they don't like.  They'll likely censor data, spy on you, etc.  They'll likely sell cheaper access to their networks to their corporate friends and co-sponsors.  Oh, the horror.  It might even one day lead to free network access for the non-porn-sharing majority.

My solution: let them.  As long as you give me the choice to pick another provider, one that doesn't filter or tarpit my data, then I'm fine with it.  I'll be happy to pay the premium.

What you should watch out for: when they make network neutrality illegal.  When the government starts filtering or blocking anything that looks encrypted.  Stop lobbying on Google's behalf, and lobby on your own: it's the government you need to fear, not 'corporations'.  Because every Comcast will have an AT&T breathing down its neck.  But there's only one Big Brother.

Richard Dawkins in Hiding

Jul 7, 2011 (Reuters) Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins has disappeared from public view after narrowly escaping an abduction attempt by members of the fanatical Teapot Church.  Several of his speaking engagements have erupted in madness, when thousands of followers overwhelmed security, forcing the audience to flee. Earlier this year the religious group publicly declared Dawkins to be the "Second Coming", based on interpretations of biblical scripture and the writings of Nostradamus.  According to his spokesman Robert Nearly, "Richard is quite terrified - he doesn't understand why a cult would choose one of the world's most outspoken atheists as their savior.  He is baffled."  Although many theories have been proposed, Dr. Ebenezer Grue, Professor of Religion at Cornell University, believes "this may have something to do with the Pope".