Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing to introduce a bill that will create a single-payer healthcare system in the United States. While the bill is highly unlikely to pass considering Republicans control Congress and the White House, it's still generating a lot of media attention as many people question what is truly the best option. In fact, that discussion is so widespread that one pharmaceutical CEO says he's worried Americans will begin to support it.
Brent Saunders (which sounds like a bad alias Bernie Sanders would use if he were on the run from the law) is the chief executive of Allergan, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. At a recent confernce, he said he's afraid people will get fed up with the current healthcare system and embrace the single-payer option proposed by Sanders.
Single-payer is a healthcare system where the government covers all healthcare costs for all Americans. Medicare is an example of a single-payer system, so Sanders' bill would essentially expand a Medicare-type system to everyone. Saunders says that anger towards the current healthcare system could lead to Americans embracing single-payer and other "extreme" ideas. He noted that the pharmaceutical industry is looked at more unfavorably than even oil or tobacco companies, and suggested that practices by drug companies are going to push people towards a single-payer system, which he obviously believes would be bad for business.
Saunders is not the stereotypical pharmaceutical villain. Last year he released a statement of principles in which he promised not to engage in predatory pricing and other nefarious practices that have been used by drug companies to screw over consumers. Saunders also instigated an unusual legal move by transferring the patent on one of Allergan's drugs to a Native American tribe. By doing so, he prevented other drug companies from challenging the patent, which allows Allergan to keep prices on this medication lower than it would otherwise.
But not all pharmaceutical companies are as altruistic as Saunders, and American healthcare costs are incredibly expensive. Perhaps Americans embracing Sanders' proposal wouldn't be as bad as Saunders and his Big Pharma colleagues think it would be.