Photo by Chris Potter via Flickr
Ever wonder why prescription drug costs are so high? Take a few minutes and read Bill Lazonick’s piece on Pfizer.
From January 2001 through September 2015, Pfizer paid out [to stockholders] $95.5 billion in buybacks and $87.1 billion in dividends.
That’s $182.6 billion paid to stockholders… compared to $37.1 billion paid in corporate taxes over the same time frame. Do the math. That’s almost five times more money paid to stockholders than paid in taxes.
Now, stop and think about this. Why are stockholders getting all that money? When shares are bought and sold on the stock exchange, none of that money goes back to the corporation. Instead, the money goes to the previous owner of the stock – who may have owned that stock for less than a second. (Read more about “high frequency trading” here.)
And yet, most corporations pay lots of money to their stockholders. For what? Passing stock from one owner to another isn’t investing in the corporation’s future. So far in 2015, Pfizer has paid more than twice as much to stockholders as it has invested in R&D.
Why are stockholders getting all that money?
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Paying money to stockholders benefits corporate executives who are “paid for performance.” (How this works, using Verizon as a case study, is a previous NHLN post.) In the case of Pfizer’s CEO, “75% of his long-term equity awards are earned based on relative and absolute total shareholder return.” In other words, the CEO’s compensation depends on Pfizer paying money to shareholders. If stockholders don’t get enough money, the CEO doesn’t get that compensation. And it’s not just the CEO. All of Pfizer’s top corporate executives are paid according to whether they meet “shareholder return” targets.
Back to Bill Lazonick’s piece:
In 2014, [Ian C.] Read as [Pfizer] CEO had total direct compensation of $22.6 million, of which 27 percent came from exercising stock options and 50 percent from the vesting of stock awards. The other four highest-paid executives named on Pfizer’s 2015 proxy statement averaged $8.0 million, with 24 percent from stock options and 41 percent from stock awards.
Remember, a good chunk of that compensation was based on the amount of money paid to stockholders. Which probably explains why Pfizer is paying so much more to stockholders than it’s spending on R&D.
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Where does all that money come from, anyway?
Pfizer Inc., the nation’s biggest drugmaker, has raised prices on 133 of its brand-name products in the U.S. this year, according to research from UBS, more than three-quarters of which added up to hikes of 10 percent or more. … In a note Friday, analysts at Morgan Stanley said Pfizer’s net prices grew 11 percent a year on average from 2012 to 2014.
The Wall Street Journal documented Pfizer’s three-year market research campaign to decide the price of a new breast cancer drug.
“[I]ts process yielded a price that bore little relation to the drug industry’s oft-cited justification for its prices, the cost of research and development. … Staff members put together a chart estimating the revenue and prescription numbers at various prices… The chart showed a 25% drop in doctors’ willingness to prescribe the new drug if it cost more than $10,000 a month.”
Two years ago, AARP investigated the pricing strategy for another Pfizer drug, with an expiring patent:
[T]he manufacturer of the popular anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor employed an unusually aggressive strategy — including a pay-for-delay agreement, a coupon program, and a substantial price increase — to try to maintain revenue and market share after Lipitor’s patent expired. … Several major U.S. retailers have filed lawsuits against Pfizer and Ranbaxy that accuse them of violating antitrust laws by striking a deal that kept generic versions of Lipitor off the market… Pfizer’s chief executive reported that they maintained three times more market share than what is traditionally seen when blockbusters lose patent protection, “add(ing) hundreds of millions of dollars of profitability to the company.”
And a bunch of Pfizer’s profits come from government spending. There isn’t a lot of available research into government spending on pharmaceuticals, but what I’ve found is enlightening. As of 2010, Pfizer’s Lipitor – in varying strengths – represented three of the top-20 drugs prescribed under both Medicare and Department of Defense health programs. As of 2003, Medicaid was spending almost $650 million a year just on Lipitor.
That’s a lot of taxpayer money going to Pfizer. While the corporation is paying twice as much to shareholders as it’s spending on R&D. While it’s paying five times as much to shareholders as it’s spending on corporate taxes. While Pfizer is trying to use the US corporate tax rate to justify off-shoring profits through a merger with Allergan.
While Pfizer’s CEO is receiving millions in compensation based on the amount of money the corporation pays to stockholders.
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And where else does that money come from?
If you have family or friends on Medicare, you probably know that the price of prescription drug coverage is going up significantly next year – even though there will be no Social Security COLA.
If you’re a State of New Hampshire retiree, you know that your cost of drug coverage is going up significantly next year – even though there hasn’t been a retirement COLA for the past six years.
The billions being paid to Pfizer stockholders are coming out of a lot of pockets… including the pockets of people who are spending their “golden years” choosing between medicine and food.
One more time: why are stockholders getting all that money? What have they done to deserve it?