The well-being of the pharmaceutical industry is dependent largely on the economy. The main factor that affects the industry is employment because a majority of Americans receive health insurance through their employers. However, other economic factors such as the number of people who are uninsured or underinsured and the recent government stimulus plans also affect the industry.
Paramount to any industry is the number of people who are unemployed. In the first decade of the 20th century, this became a major political issue in the United States. Unemployment affects the pharmaceutical industry in two major ways. First, people who do not have jobs usually do not have the funds to buy the pharmaceuticals they need. Second, many people rely on jobs to provide health insurance. Even when they are hired, many new employees do not receive benefits until they have been employed a set period of time.
Uninsured and Underinsured People
Perhaps no issue is more related to the pharmaceutical industry than the number of people who are uninsured and underinsured. With no insurance or insufficient coverage, many people cannot afford prescription drugs or will forgo preventive medicine and wait until a problem has become serious enough to require more intensive, expensive treatment. Those who lack adequate insurance are left with bills they can't pay, and health care providers are not compensated. This creates the blow-back effect of those who can afford medical coverage being charged more to make up for those who can't. HealthLeaders Media estimates that 52 million Americans are uninsured as of 2010. In addition, CNN Money estimates that as of late 2009, another 25 million Americans have insurance that does not provide adequate coverage.
Government Stimulus Packages
With economic downturns, high unemployment rates and growing numbers of people uninsured, many call for the government to intervene. Both the past and current Presidential Administrations have introduced stimulus packages although the details remain unclear. President Obama's 2010 stimulus plan allocated $59 billion for health care, $81 billion for the poor and unemployed and another $53 billion for education and training. Although stimulus funds help the pharmaceutical industry in the short term, economists do not agree on the long-term effects on inflation or of the precedent of government intervention.