Small, big health care reform efforts | Durango Herald | Opinion

If north La Plata County residents over age 60 had their way, they would have universal health care, with the government negotiating prescription prices.

At least that’s the overwhelming result of a survey by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County, with 77 percent wanting a taxpayer-funded universal health care system like Medicare. Also of note, 82% agreed that the government should have the right to negotiate Medicare drug prices.

The comments were also telling. Frustration with the cost of drugs, the wide range of price differences, and confusing insurance policies regarding drug coverage were the most commonly mentioned.

For decades, politicians have kept promises to lower the cost of prescriptions. Most have failed except for Gov. Jared Polis, who capped the cost of insulin, and those behind the Inflation Reduction Act with provisions to lower drug costs for Medicare recipients. But it’s not close enough. Unless we have a massive unification of like-minded people with the drive to take on Big Pharma and its lobbyists, it’s a long shot.

Enter billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA-winning Dallas Mavericks, tech titan and star of ABC’s “Shark Tank.” For Cuban, the continued inability of policymakers to address rampant drug pricing has reinforced his view that the government is not up to the task.

He made his money by investing heavily in Cost Plus Drugs, an online pharmacy launched in January that sells generic drugs for the cost of manufacturing, plus a modest 15% markup and shipping. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion pharmaceutical industry, where hospitals can sell cancer drugs at a 600% markup. Also, consider the price of Daraprim, a life-saving antiparasitic drug, which was raised from $13.50 to $750 a pill in 2015.

There is a lack of goodwill in the pharmaceutical industry. If successful, Cost Plus Drugs will disrupt predatory markets as a way to regulate them. The word “destroy” is appropriate because that’s what we need for something meaningful and lasting to happen.

Cuban, 64, whose net worth was $4.6 billion in August according to Forbes, could have done many things, including retirement. A generic drug company is not a sexy business. But because of his business acumen, Cuban’s involvement in Cost Plus Drugs alone is benevolent and has already made a huge difference for people paying too much for prescriptions they need.

A Cuban has the potential to do more good for humanity than a politician. Progressive health care reform with a philanthropic bent.

We can have more billionaires like him.

It’s too early to tell if Cuban’s model can pan out. Cost Plus Drugs currently carries only about 1,000 drugs in the US. It doesn’t accept most insurance, though that will likely change in 2023. Still, Cuban’s plan is innovative. That’s what we need.

We also appreciate LWVLPC’s alignment with what this community wants in health care.

His anonymous survey, which garnered 546 responses from March to September, asks for opinions and experiences with local doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and more. The majority of respondents were between the ages of 60 and 69, with nearly 40% having a household income of $100,000 or more.

No doubt this demographic will embrace this survey. A wider range of respondents matching our census data would have made the results even more conclusive. As it is, the study does not appear to be complete.

Next steps for the LWVLPC include plans to form a coalition of community leaders, businesses and health care stakeholder groups. Hopefully effective movers and shakers from the actively crumbling San Juan Basin Public Health will be in attendance, along with representatives from Mercy Regional Medical Center.

We need a massive table to do real health care reform.

Durango Herald Editorial Board

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