Grace-Marie Turner

Decisions from Washington could limit access to a wide range of novel drugs and biologics. And it’s going to get worse under agencies created by the new health law. The new Independent Payment Advisory Board, for example, will have sweeping authority over payments in Medicare, and these unelected board members are specifically charged with focusing on payments for prescription drugs. In other countries with government-run heath systems, bodies like IPAB lead to explicit rationing.

Washington control ultimately will dictate which drugs are developed – or not. This will certainly deter innovation and development of tomorrow’s new medicines. Firms generally avoid investing in treatments if there is a risk the big government programs won’t pay for them.

In the case of the Avastin ruling, Genentech is likely to take a huge financial hit. Medicare and Medicaid will probably stop paying for the drug for breast cancer, and the firm will lose a huge share of the market.

And this is happening even after the drug received FDA approval. Avastin was approved in 2008 when the FDA first considered it. So this new ruling adds yet another degree of uncertainty to the federal drug approval process, deterring future pharmaceutical development not just for Genentech, but for every pharmaceutical research company watching this play out.

We need to reform the FDA drug approval process to gather information more quickly and efficiently. And we definitely don’t want government to have the final say on whether these medicines will be available to us.

Physicians, hospitals, and health insurance companies all conduct their own effectiveness research into drugs, devices, and treatments. These entities are closer to the patient and better-positioned to make the call about which treatments are worth paying for.

The government now controls half of all health spending in this country. Putting so much of our health sector under government control distorts prices and restricts choice. Instead, we should empower patients to have more control over health insurance choices. Prices need to be more transparent. And it should be up to individual patients, doctors, and their insurer to determine if a new drug should be covered. These vital decisions shouldn't be left to a distant government bureaucrat sitting in an office in Washington DC.

Our centralized healthcare system is dangerous to health and must be watched carefully. When bureaucrats, distant from the actual delivery of care, decide what treatments are "worth it," patients suffer.


Grace-Marie Turner

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization in Alexandria, VA, that focuses on health reform.