Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Drug Companies and Whistle Blowers

In the January 25, 2011 Los Angeles Times, an article about a small pharmacy in Florida that has become a giant whistleblower on big drug companies and their pricing strategies.

It seems that big pharmaceuticals keep their prices low when selling to doctors and pharmacies, squeezing out generic drugs, and then turn around and bill state and federal agencies hugely inflated prices.

Because of this small pharmacy and its whistle blowing, hundreds of millions of dollars have been recovered from the drug companies.

I find myself thinking of Jesus and the disciples in Jerusalem, as the disciples ooh and awe over the impressive buildings. Unimpressed, Jesus turns to watch a widow sacrificially put in a few small coins to support the temple enterprise, while the wealthy drop in huge sums, but only for show and without sacrifice.

Most importantly, Jesus then describes the wealthy and their temple enterprise as a fraudulent system devouring widows’ houses (Mark 12 & 13).

I believe there’s a connection between this moment in the gospels and our world today.

We hear much about government wastefulness and national health-care programs that will never work, along with the mantra: we can trust big biz to provide for us, as long we give it unfettered reign. Government is the problem; biz is the solution.

This was the mantra of the Jerusalem establishment. With its impressive buildings and public piety, people were seduced, as was the widow, and duped into supporting the temple enterprise, believing it to be good, when, in fact, it was rife with corruption.

It didn’t take long for the temple establishment to get all over Jesus, calling him a liar, accusing him of getting his facts wrong, and naming him an enemy of Israel. The Jerusalem establishment joined hands with Rome, and with their combined wealth and might, with their laws and regulations, with their influence and with their armies, they strove with all their resources to silence Jesus.

These days, how many widows’ homes are devoured by the drug companies, and other megacorps, who plow ahead with unregulated pricing structures, international arrangements that are virtually impossible to monitor, gouging the government of much needed tax revenue, manipulating laws and rewriting regulations, causing many to doubt the effectiveness of national health-care, calling for an end to national health-care, going, after Social Security, accusing the government of fraud and waste, while racking in illicit millions.

Is this not the temple establishment in Jerusalem?

Are these not the marble and glass office buildings and skyscrapers that impress us, but are, in fact, warehouses of fraud, deception and greed, at the expense of truth and people?

Thank God for folks who blow the whistles on such things, and may Jesus, himself a whistleblower, as was John the Baptist and the prophets of old and the author of Revelation 18, inspire us to be mindful of the beautiful buildings of power built upon fraud, and the misleading narrative that invites our trust even as it fleeces our pockets.

The moral task of the pulpit is a serious one. The moral imperative for the church, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, calls us to tell the truth about the huge and deeply fraudulent systems that still devour widows’ home.