Ana Veciana-Suarez

A nightclub massacre, 2 hospitals, 1 EpiPen con: the tale of corporate greed vs. decency

KRT

Sometimes we need a story, a singular example that proves greed is not the governing canon of the world, that executives are sometimes willing to surrender profits for the greater good, and that a charitable act can also translate into a smart public relations move.

Here is one: Orlando Health and Florida Hospital announced last week that they will not bill victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting for out-of-pocket expenses. That amount will likely add up to about $5.5 million or more in care. Orlando Health said it will write off whatever costs insurance policies don’t cover. Florida Hospital officials said they would not bill the victims’ insurance nor would they bill for follow-up surgeries if needed.

Both hospitals were apparently inspired by the way the Orlando community came together in the wake of the June Pulse nightclub massacre in which a lone gunman killed 49 people and left 53 wounded. Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is the main hospital of the Orlando Health chain, treated 44 of the more than 50 victims who needed immediate medical attention.

"During this very trying time, many organizations, individuals and charities have reached out to Orlando Health to show their support," Orlando Health President and CEO David Strong told the Orlando Sentinel. "This is simply our way of paying that kindness forward."

Wow! The reaction by the hospitals to their community’s need stands in sharp contrast to the gluttony exhibited by other healthcare companies in the news. Surely you’ve heard about the avarice of Mylan Pharmaceutical, which jacked up the price of EpiPens, a device that shoots an emergency dose of epinephrine to control a potentially fatal allergic reaction.

Mylan has come under fire — deservedly so — for increasing the price of this life-saving medication from $94 in 2007, when it bought the right to sell the pen, to $608 this year. That’s a whopping 550 percent in less than a decade. In response to the outcry, the tone-deaf pharma company — which blamed insurance companies after raising its prices repeatedly while doing nothing to the product — offered to triple the discount low-income patients can receive, a wilted olive branch since experts say fewer than 5 percent of patients use drug coupons.

Mylan is hardly alone in its avidity. Before Mylan’s money-grab, Turing Pharmaceuticals hiked Daraprim, an anti-malarial drug often used by HIV patients, by 5,000 percent and Valeant increased Syprine, a blood-cleaning agent, by 3,000 percent. Why? Because they could. Because they faced no competition. And because we’ve allowed it.

This, however, isn’t a piece about the moral crime of unmerited drug price hikes or the fact that a single EpiPen sells for a third of the U.S. price in Canada. It isn’t even a knock on a business’s right to make money legally. It’s about what prompts one company— or one person — to behave selflessly while another acts uncaringly.

Is it ethics? Leadership? Ties to its community?

Orlando Health and Florida Hospital will gulp down the cost of care for shooting victims because it is the right and honorable thing to do. And while no company (or individual for that matter) is so altruistic as to expect nothing in return, this rare act is nonetheless admirable.

I’m a staunch believer in karma, in what goes around comes around. I know decency is rewarded in some fashion and goodwill eventually shows up in the bottom line. And greed? It invariably meets its match.

Ana Veciana-Suarez: 305-376-3633, aveciana-suarez@miamiherald.com, @AnaVeciana

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