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International Price Controls Would Harm American Medical Innovation, Slowing Response to COVID-19

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

After almost five months of a nationally-declared state of emergency for COVID-19, Americans everywhere are hopeful for better treatment and even a vaccine for the disease. Doctors and scientists in America and around the world are racing for the treatments that can put an end to this unique disease, but that will take time and money.

In particular, pharmaceutical companies often spend considerable funds over an extended period of time to find a new cure. Profits from the latest cures are often reinvested on the next round of research and development leading to future drugs that will save lives.

Sadly, proposals that have been favored by both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump — both twists on an “international pricing index” — would slow the gears of the crucial process of new drug innovations for patients suffering from rare diseases. When the federal government puts price controls front and center of their pharmaceutical policy, it’s patients and their families who stand the most to lose.

One of the people who benefited from life-changing pharmaceutical innovation is Matt Hiznay. At 24, he found out he had stage IV lung cancer even though he wasn't a smoker.

Matt’s particularly aggressive form of cancer was caused by a gene mutation. Thankfully, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved a new chemotherapy drug on the day he was diagnosed. Matt told the Cleveland Clinic that the experimental new drug, Crizotinib, “saved my life.”

Government price controls likely lead to reduced pharmaceutical production and innovation. This will impact the well-being of vulnerable patients and raise the costs of health care programs run by the federal government. Plus, nations using the international pricing system routinely suffer from increased wait times, drug shortages, and rationing of care.

The United States, under the most favored national provision, would be required to have the most stringent price controls in the world. Clearly pharmaceutical companies will not be able to afford to spend large amounts on the development of new drugs in a country where it is so hard to recoup the investment.

There are proposals that can more effectively address the challenge posed by high drug costs. The Reciprocity Ensures Streamlined Use of Lifesaving Treatments (RESULT) Act is one way that would help break down the regulatory barriers that prevent biosimilar and generic drugs being brought to market in a timely fashion. The RESULT Act would expedite approval for drugs that have been given the green-light in other countries, without imposing artificial price controls.

Furthermore, oversight must be prioritized. The federal government is woefully unable to manage their own medical entitlement programs, which is part of the reason fraud and abuse run rampant through Medicare and Medicaid. Better management of oversight programs would help suppress the skyrocketing costs of these entitlement programs without allowing international price controls to depress medical innovation in America.

Cost-effective ways to manage prescription drug benefits must be found, particularly for people with high costs. But we must do it in a way that does not compromise our ability to find cures and to provide care to people like Matt Hiznay with that rare form of lung cancer. It is important to treat patients like people and not statistics with medications and treatments that are unique to the individual.

Government price controls never work. It’s necessary for federal programs to find ways to manage costs, but turning a portion of our healthcare system over to an “international pricing index” would be a disaster for both patients and taxpayers.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a senior advisor with the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for taxpayers at all levels of government. 

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