US drug firms inflating costs!

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Health workers fight for a public health service. The drug companies are accused of making prices artificially high

More than 40 US states have filed a lawsuit accusing pharmaceutical firms of operating a cartel and conspiring to artificially inflate the cost of common medicinal drugs.

The lawsuit alleges that as many as 20 companies have been involved in fixing prices for over 100 drugs, including treatments for diabetes and cancer.

One of the firms accused is Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s largest producer of generic medicine.

Teva, which has denied any wrongdoing, says it will defend its actions.

The legal action, which follows a five-year investigation, accuses drugs companies of involvement in a scheme to boost prices – in some cases by more than 1,000% – and was filed last Friday by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

‘We have hard evidence that shows the generic drug industry perpetrated a multi-billion dollar fraud on the American people,’ Tong said.

‘We have emails, text messages, telephone records and former company insiders that we believe will prove a multi-year conspiracy to fix prices and divide market share for huge numbers of generic drugs.’

A representative of Teva in the US claimed that the Israeli company ‘has not engaged in any conduct that would lead to civil or criminal liability’.

The other 19 firms implicated in the lawsuit have yet to comment on the allegations.

Fifteen individuals were also named as defendants accused of overseeing the price-fixing scheme on a day-to-day basis.

According to the lawsuit, the drugs companies allegedly conspired to manipulate prices on dozens of medicines between July 2013 and January 2015.

It accuses Teva and others of ‘embarking on one of the most egregious and damaging price-fixing conspiracies in the history of the United States’.

Tong said the investigation has exposed why the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs is so high in the US.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft drivers who went on strike in cities across the United States last week have declared it a success, winning the support of several Democrats running for president.

‘The goal is to bring awareness to the incredible disregard for workers,’ said Lyft driver Ann Glatt, who helped organise the San Francisco strike and protest outside Uber headquarters.

In Silicon Valley, a workers’ rights group established Gig Workers Rising, which helped with Wednesday’s strike.

In New York state, the AFL-CIO trades unions federation is pushing the Legislature to take steps to protect workers who get jobs through digital platforms.

Among the Lyft and Uber drivers’ top issues are pay, a lack of transparency that makes it difficult to understand how much they are paid and why, and no due process when they are ‘deactivated,’ or barred from the service.

The drivers and workers at other app-based platforms such as Instacart or food delivery service DoorDash are classified by the companies as independent contractors, leaving them without the same safeguards traditional workers receive, such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and health and safety protections.

In California, trade union leaders are pushing for legislation to classify gig workers and other independent contractors as regular employees, after a state high court ruling last year.

Nicole Moore is a Lyft driver and organiser with the Los Angeles-based group Rideshare Drivers United.

Last week’s action followed a strike which drivers held in Los Angeles in March to protest against a cut in Uber’s reimbursement rate from 80 cents to 60 cents per mile.

A core group of about 25 drivers organised it with many others of their 4,300 driver members pitching in to help.

Drivers in different cities described how they spread the word.

Some spoke to fellow drivers face-to-face in driver hotspots: airport parking lots, car washes and gas stations, while others reached out to driver networks in different immigrant communities and took out targeted ads on Facebook and Google.

Organising people who don’t work in the same job location can be difficult and requires new, tech-savvy approaches, said Rachel Lauter, executive director of the Seattle-based workers’ rights group Working Washington.

The group has helped organise in industries such as fast food and domestic workers, and last year started talking to workers in the gig economy about what mattered to them.

Their efforts galvanised this year when Instacart changed its pay model and began counting tips towards basic pay.

The group launched a campaign using text messages, Facebook, Reddit, online petitions and other digital tools to reach out to workers and customers to let them know about the change.

They encouraged customers to give only a minimal tip to send a message of protest to the company then add a tip after delivery or tip in cash.

They also created online calculators to help workers understand how much Instacart was actually paying them.

They held Zoom conference calls where hundreds of Instacart workers and customers called in to coordinate.

They registered a victory when Instacart in February announced a number of steps ‘to more fairly and competitively compensate’ its workers, including leaving tips out of it when they calculate how much each worker will be paid.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said it isn’t fair that gig platforms don’t have to pay minimum wage, payroll taxes, unemployment insurance and other expenses that traditional employers pay.

‘We must get ahead of this now,’ Cilento said. ‘We liken it to where we were with the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, when they came up with the eight-hour day, and child labour laws and overtime pay.’

Uber’s business model excludes fair labour practices and Uber strikers have legitimate grievances.

According to one study conducted in New York City, about half of ride-hailing drivers are supporting families with children, yet their earnings are so meagre that 40 per cent of all drivers qualify for Medicaid and another 18 per cent qualify for food stamps.

Uber has bet big on self-driving-car technology, hoping to replace drivers en masse.

But the company’s plans went awry after an expensive and embarrassing intellectual property lawsuit over its self-driving-car tech and an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.