There's a sick irony in this country when it comes to health care. Many of us need pharmaceuticals to stay healthy, but the cost of them can cause even more health problems. It's like some bizarre circle of "life." Drug prices suck, and Dallas' Tony Stark, billionaire Mark Cuban, has had enough of it.
The Mavericks owner has turned his latest entrepreneurial efforts to curbing the price of prescription drugs with something called the Cost Plus Drug Co. It's an online pharmacy where anyone who needs to buy a pricy drug can get a deep discount even without insurance.
Drug prices in America have become a huge problem because there's basically no bargaining going on between the companies and ... well, anyone. A 2020 editorial published by Mayo Clinic hematologist and oncologist S. Vincent Rajkumar in the Blood Cancer Journal points the blame for these runaway prices on a number of issues, but the most important is "the existence of monopoly."
"For many new drugs, there are no other alternatives," Rajkumar wrote. "In the case of cancer, even when there are multiple drugs to treat a specific malignancy, there is still no real competition based on price because most cancers are incurable and each drug must be used in sequence for a given patient. Patients will need each effective drug at some point during the course of their disease."
There are also no regulations for American consumers to protect them from companies and legal druglords like Martin Shkreli when they decide to raise the cost of a life-saving drug by 5,000 percent — as he did with the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim in 2015. Drugs also can become obsolete in a short period of time that doesn't allow for them to develop generic alternatives with more affordable prices.
There have been advancements in access thanks to things like the Affordable Care Act of 2010, but even that historic piece of legislation made no effort to curtail health care prices.
"Clearly, all monopolies need to be regulated in order to protect citizens and therefore most of the developed world uses some form of regulations to cap the launch prices of new prescription drugs," Rajkumar wrote. "Unregulated monopolies pose major problems."
Cuban's online pharmacy concept launched in 2021. It certainly isn't a solution to the entire drug problem in America, but it might just start to make a serious dent as competition — especially to some of the most expensive drugs on the market.
"We will do whatever it takes to get affordable pharmaceuticals to patients," said Cost Plus Drug CEO Alex Oshmyansky in a statement. "The markup on potentially lifesaving drugs that people depend on is a problem that can't be ignored."
We did a little digging on Cost Plus Drugs' catalog of available medicine and the differences in prices are staggering.
Abacavir/Lamivudine (Generic for Epizcom)
You would think the generic products would be cheaper. That's why that nondescript box that's just marked "Corn Flakes" is cheaper than the "Corn Flakes" with the minimalist rooster on the cover. That's not the case for this HIV drug that "lowers your chance of getting HIV complications such as new infections, cancer," according to WebMD.
Retail Price: $1,096.20
Cost Plus Price: $57.60
Things you can buy with the difference: 100 Roblox cards worth 800 Robux, 172 packages of five 7-gram packs of Jack Link's Teriyaki Beef Jerky, an antique tall case grandfather clock made from cherry wood
Cyclobenzaprine Extended Release (Amrix)
According to the Food and Drug Administration, this is a skeletal muscle relaxant to help people who suffer from muscle spasms without interfering with muscle function.
Retail Price: $1,094.40
Cost Plus Price: $53.10
Things you can buy with the difference: A fiberglass recycling station, 1,062 boxes of Pirouline Chocolate Hazelnut cookie twists, one Black Rhino Glamis Wheel Rim set in matte black
People with chronic hepatitis B need drugs like this to fight the virus and to prevent its spreading to others.
Retail Price: $995.70
Cost Plus Price: $26.70
Things you can buy with the difference: one 256 GB iPhone 7 Plus, the entire Cracker Barrel menu (one item only each, please).
This ridiculously expensive drug is used to treat an eye infection called cytomegalovirus retinitis, known for causing permanent blindness in people who've contracted AIDS.
Retail Price: $1,750.50
Cost Plus Price: $100.20
Things you can buy with the difference: a used Tektronix digital oscilloscope, an Acrus T-Series violin bow, 55 annual subscriptions to Bon Appetit magazine.