Martin Shkreli is a greedy pharmaceutical executive. He's the one who raised the price of Daraprim — a drug used by AIDS patients to fight infections — by more than 5,000 percent last month, before bowing to pressure on Tuesday.
He's also an American hero. We should be thanking him today.
Pharmaceutical companies have been buying up generic drugs, jacking up their prices, and messing up patients' lives for years. Many, many chronically ill Americans have been forced to suddenly spend their savings on medical treatment because of overnight price hikes.
No one cared about it until Shkreli appeared on the national scene this week.
He was so perfectly vile — a modern bro version of Gordon Gekko — with a history of bad behavior and broken companies littered behind him. There were the allegations of harassment. The $65 million lawsuit from the last company he founded.
And unlike so many executives, Shkreli wasn't afraid to be perfectly explicit: He was in the drug business to make money.
"We took it to a place where we can make a comfortable profit," Shkreli told CNBC, explaining why he'd raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill, ignoring calls for lower costs for patients.
We don't get health reform without a catalyzing moment like this.
Five years ago, debate over the legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act had stalled after Democrats had lost their Senate supermajority. Many White House staffers even thought that their health reform bill was dead in the water, after a year of trying to get it passed.
But then one California health insurer — Anthem Blue Cross — decided to hike health insurance rates by as much as 39 percent for its customers. The story sparked local outrage, national headlines … and glee in the White House, which publicly flogged Anthem in order to resuscitate its flagging health insurance reform plan.
Six weeks later, the Affordable Care Act was law.
Don't expect a similarly speedy turnaround on generic drug prices; there's a lot that still needs to happen, and the upcoming debate will be slow going. But leading Democrats are already grabbing the spotlight that Shkreli accidentally generated. Bernie Sanders is again pushing a policy proposal that was mostly ignored the first time he introduced it. Hillary Clinton even seized on the news to deliver an entire speech on Tuesday about reforming the drug industry.
Meanwhile, Shkreli says he won't go through with the price hike to Daraprim, which feels like a moral victory after two days of national outrage. And he's starting to shrink from the moment he created. The man who called a journalist a "moron" for asking about Shkreli's decision to hike drug prices is now declining interviews.
"I think our relationship is over," Shkreli told the New York Times, two days after the Times's first article on Daraprim's price hike exploded into a national story.
But America's scrutiny of the generic drug industry is just beginning, all thanks to one foolish drug company CEO. And for that, Martin Shkreli, we salute you.