Opinion: The ignorance of Hot Takes — a counter to ‘Free Martin Shkreli!’

nicholas hunter headshot

nicholas hunter headshot

Nicholas Hunter

On August 7, The Week published “Free Martin Shkreli,” a column by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry that posits not only should Shkreli not be punished for his behavior in recent years but should be considered an American hero for it.

For those who do not know, Shkreli is known for running a pharmaceutical company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, which bought the rights to a life-saving drug, Daraprim, for people with an uncommon infection called Toxoplasmosis — which is especially dangerous for pregnant people and those with weakened immune systems, such as transplantees and AIDS patients — and increased the per-pill price of the drug from $13.50 to $375, as of 2016.

Gobry argues that, while increasing the price of a drug that has saved the lives of AIDS patients for over 60 years is not a move that looks good to the public eye, Shkreli is doing a harmless public service.

Gobry uses what seems to be pretty sound logic; by buying exclusive rights to a little-known drug and increasing the price of it, you create more revenue that can be used to pay for more research on the subject.

And if you are wondering the same thing I am, here’s what Gobry says about the cost for patients:

“Even though drugs would cost a lot individually, they would still represent a small absolute cost for insurers, who would be able to eat it. Everybody wins, especially patients.”

What?

Personally, I am lucky to have Medicaid, which pays for the many medications, procedures, and appointments I need as a transplantee, with only the cost of the occasional vitamin coming out of pocket.

But it isn’t that simple for many. Republicans in Congress has been on a crusade to repeal and replace (and, in the meantime, undermine) the Affordable Care Act, and because of that, insurers are dropping out of local markets and premiums (the amount you pay for insurance) and deductibles (how much you pay for healthcare before insurance starts paying) are expected to spike.

And while Business Insider Australia does a great job here explaining how many are getting the drug for much less than label price, it still glosses over the two most problematic situations for patients: when they do not have insurance or if their insurer refuses to pay for it.

The premise of Gobry’s column relies on a system where all else is perfect; people are insured, poor enough to get assistance and savvy to the extremely complicated system that earns them key discounts.

But anyone who isn’t trying to drive clicks to an article with a zany hot take knows better than to assume every facet of a system works perfectly.

There are some merits to the theory of Shkreli’s nobility: Increasing drug prices does definitely have the potential to increase cash flow into medical research conducted by pharmaceutical companies, which could reap great benefits.

But even this relies on the assumption that Turing Pharmaceuticals uses the revenue for research and that Shkreli himself has increased drug prices for philanthropic reasons, rather than to line his own pockets with more money — you know, since his work as a hedge fund manager didn’t work out too well.

Gobry, like many other Hot Take journalists, has little interest in whether he made a sound, foolproof argument in defending Shkreli. Instead, he’s happy to be made a fool by anyone with a base knowledge of the situation, so long as the clicks keep coming in.

In full disclosure, I could be completely wrong, and Gobry could be the one beacon of truth in the case of Shkreli.

But if he isn’t, and Shkreli is simply an advantageous scumbag, then do yourself a favor and never read another word about the merits of drug price inflation.

Nicholas Hunter is the opinion editor. Contact him at [email protected]