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Our View: Small, large efforts for health care reform

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

At least, this is the overwhelming result from the League of Women Voters of La Plata County’s survey with 77% wanting a taxpayer funded, universal health care system like Medicare. Also of note, 82% agreed the government should be allowed to negotiate drug prices for Medicare.

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

For decades, politicians have run on promises to reduce the cost of prescriptions. Most have failed with exceptions 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 near enough. Unless we have a mass uniting of likeminded individuals with the driving force 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 lingering inability for politicians to get a handle on runaway drug pricing has reinforced his view that government is not up to this task.

He put his money where his mouth is by investing heavily in Cost Plus Drugs, an online pharmacy launched in January that sells generic medications for the cost of manufacturing, plus a modest markup of 15% and shipping. Contrast this with the $1.4 trillion pharmaceutical industry, where hospitals can sell cancer drugs at a 600% markup. Also, consider the price of Daraprim, a lifesaving antiparasitic drug, that was jacked up from $13.50 to $750 per pill in 2015.

Goodwill is lacking in the pharmaceutical industry. If successful, Cost Plus Drugs would disrupt predatory markets as a way of regulating them. The word “disrupt” is fitting because that’s what we need for anything meaningful and lasting to happen.

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

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

We could use more billionaires like him.

It’s too soon to tell whether Cuban’s model can scale. At this time, Cost Plus Drugs only offers about 1,000 medications in the U.S. It doesn’t accept most insurance, although that’s likely to change in 2023. Still, Cuban’s plan is innovative. That’s what we need.

We also appreciate the LWVLPC getting closer to what this community wants for health care.

Its anonymous survey, which garnered 546 responses from March to September, asked about opinions and experiences with local physicians, hospitals, insurance companies and more. The majority of respondents were age 60 to 69 with nearly 40% having a household income of $100,000 or more.

No doubt, this demographic would take this survey. A broader range of respondents that matched our census data would have made the results even more compelling. As is, the survey doesn’t feel complete.

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

We need a crowded table to create real reform for health care.