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Lowering Drug Prices Requires Better Policies, Not Politics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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It was interesting to see how each party adjusted to hosting a convention during a pandemic. They both played well on television and were full of good politics, but as a doctor on the frontlines of medicine, I found it frustrating. The parties both talked about issues that matter, like rising drug prices and healthcare transparency, but behind the curtain, both parties have been responsible for pursuing poorly thought-out polices that act merely as Band-Aids instead of solutions.

The Left’s solutions are simple to understand: they want top-down control. So, lets focus on the Republican convention – because to this point President Trump has a strong healthcare record - and during the pandemic has done a great job of getting the government out of the way and allowing the private sector to innovate.

Instead of relying on the private sector, when it comes to drug prices and transparency, Trump has recently relied more on government solutions. He has supported options that include top-down government regulations and price-fixing policies that are similar to what the left wants. This will do more to weaken these markets, decrease innovation, and limit supply.

It isn’t just my experience that brings this conclusion. Trump’s own Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) agrees. In 2018, right before President Trump first introduced his drug price-control plan, the CEA published a paper on potential harmful effects of socialist policies—and identified price controls as such. When President Trump’s own economic professionals analyzed another price-fixing bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) HR.3, President Trump’s economists concluded that her bill would cause up to 100 fewer drugs (1/3 of the projected total) and reduce the average life expectancy by about four months (1/4 of the projected gains over the next 10 years). Physicians do not want to see this happen.

Price controls will undoubtedly lower the price of prescription drugs, but at the expense of innovation—including life-saving vaccinations. This is especially preposterous during a pandemic. High drug prices are a problem, but they are just a symptom of a broken system. When capitalism is not allowed to flourish, there is no incentive for companies to take risks and be inventive.

Given his record on de-regulation and innovative policies in healthcare, these solutions aren’t likely Trump’s fault. In fact, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic— I believe we will have a vaccine for Covid in record time that will save many lives as Trump has made some great strides in getting the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) out of the way of vaccine development and testing. He also helped the American people during this pandemic by removing telehealth restrictions and providing better and easier licensing rules. The problem in this case is that the proposed solutions will further mask the real problem, which is that current market forces can’t take charge and correct the healthcare market because healthcare is inundated with regulations and misaligned tax incentives.

The solution in healthcare – as with almost any issue – is to return power to the people. If patients controlled more of their healthcare dollars, then they would be the clients instead of the employer, the insurance company, the pharmacy, or the hospital. If patients controlled their money, then more prices would become transparent, more middlemen would be removed from the market, and competition on price and thus better access to medications would quickly develop. The power would be placed back to the patients.

Fortunately, there are a few “islands of excellence” that prove that a market does exist—a market where drugs are affordable and healthcare prices are transparent. My practice is one example of transparent prices, and another is Dr. Josh Umbehr of Atlas, MD in Kansas. In Josh’s case, not only are his prices transparent, but because his state allows him to dispense medications, his prices for medications are very affordable. Prices for his patients are on average only 70% of what they can buy them for at any pharmacy and sometimes 99% less than retail. This allows more patients to have access to more medications. More doctors are taking innovative approaches to how they practice medicine – although in doing so many are also forced to opt out of insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare.

We need more free market, more consumer choice, and less regulation. No matter who is our next president, the more we let capitalism work, the better off the health of our country will be.

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