Martin Shkreli was a businessman in the pharmaceutical industry who became famous several years ago when his company increased some drug prices by a huge factor.

I recently watched this video of him in court; to my surprise, I saw multiple people defending Shkreli in the comments. Many claimed that individuals almost never had to pay the large prices for the medication; it was the insurance companies. If a person without insurance contacted Shkreli, then he would give them the medication for free.

I don't buy this, but I was wondering if there was any truth to it.

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    A few comments on YouTube are about as far from a 'notable' claim as you can get. Can you find any other source making this claim? Are pharmaceutical companies even allowed to just directly give patients medication?
    – Giter
    Jul 19, 2018 at 10:30
  • Shkreli livestreams a lot on this topic: youtube.com/watch?v=HXVQOZDKlRE Jul 21, 2018 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


Yes, with a number of caveats.

Shkreli's company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, promised to give free access to Daraprim to some patients in need after the initial price-hike controversy arose.

Here is a timeline:

  • February 2015: Martin Shkreli founded Turing Pharmaceuticals.

  • September 2015: Turing Pharmaceutical raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet, causing a controversy.

  • November 24, 2015: Turing Pharmaceuticals announced price cuts for Daraprim for some purchasers, under some conditions. This included these statements:

    Sample starter packages at zero cost to ensure physicians treating patients in the community have free and immediate access to start therapy in emergency situations. We plan to make these available in early 2016.


    Provide Daraprim free-of-charge to uninsured, qualified patients with demonstrated income at or below 500% of the federal poverty level through our Patient Assistance Program.

    I don't have evidence whether they carried out these promises.

    (The 500% threshold struck me as surprisingly high, but that might just reflect my ignorance. Here are the federal poverty level base lines.)

  • December 17, 2015: Shkreli resigned as CEO, after being arrested on unrelated charges.

  • February 4, 2016: Shkreli appeared before the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as shown in the YouTube video.

  • September 1, 2017: Turing Pharmaceuticals started trading in the US as Vyera Pharmaceuticals.

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    “I don't have evidence whether they carried out these promises.” — And yet your answer starts by saying “Yes”. I’d suggest that “probably not” is more accurate given the evidence we have (and, given what we know about Shkreli from his public appearances, “hell no” would be even more accurate). Jul 19, 2018 at 13:29
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    @KonradRudolph The question has two aspects: 1. did he offer? (Odd: yes!) and 2. "If a person without insurance contacted Shkreli, then he would give them the medication for free." I read 2 as promise actually delivered. And I do not believe that either. Jul 19, 2018 at 13:41
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    @LangLangC This comes back to whether “to offer” means “make an honest offer” or “dishonestly promise without any intent to honour that promise”. For me it clearly means the first one. The second one isn’t an offer, it’s a pretence of an offer. In that sense, Shkreli (probably) never actually offered the medication for free. Jul 19, 2018 at 13:54
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    @KonradRudolph: I want to clarify (because you seem to be basing your priors on your estimation of the man, while I am basing mine on what I think a pharmaceutical company can get away with): I think the YouTube comments referring to Shkreli being contacted are really referring to the company. I'm not saying ringing Shkreli's personal mobile would have got you free medication, but applying to a program (that still exists) should have. I am trying to out how - if the program did work - how one might find evidence of that.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 19, 2018 at 14:25
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    @KonradRudolph: And given that the (multiple-count) conviction of Shkreli was essentially due to him lying over and over in fairly related matters (promised other stuff he knew he would not deliver)... his credibility in terms of delivering on improbable promises is pretty damn low. theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/09/… Jul 19, 2018 at 17:48

The closest I could find was this (see also here):

He also promised: "If you cannot afford the drug we will give it away for free."

This was after the backlash because of the severe price inflation. I found no evidence that he personally or the company ever actually followed up on that (I doubt it though).

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    Enh. It’s actually pretty common for pharmaceutical companies to have a list price they charge to the insurance companies and large hospital networks, while offering huge discounts to indigent individuals and smaller institutions. So it’s at least plausible that this guy followed what is a fairly standard industry practice. Jul 20, 2018 at 2:27
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    @HopelessN00b But there is a huge difference between discounted and free. With the former, the company makes money because they reach people they otherwise wouldn't. With the latter, they make nothing. And even say a 90% discount would still result in costs of 3k - 9k for treatment after the price hike (using the figures from TemporalWolf comment in the other answer). Compared to the ~20-50 bucks anywhere else in the world or the ~80 bucks in the US before the price hike, that is still a pretty significant sum, especially for people who aren't wealthy.
    – tim
    Jul 20, 2018 at 7:23
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    @HopelessN00b this might be common in the us. never heard of it in europe.
    – Mafii
    Jul 20, 2018 at 11:26
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    @Mafii The US healthcare system runs on a very different model from that in most European countries, for a variety of reasons.
    – JAB
    Jul 21, 2018 at 1:34

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