Patient groups around the world are applauding San Diego Representative Scott Peters for introducing legislation that seeks to reduce out-of-pocket costs for drugs without stifling innovation in the life sciences.
His efforts helped slow down a well-intentioned but ill-conceived drug pricing bill – HR 3 – that was speeding up Congress on the upcoming $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.
HR 3, also known as the Drug Cost Reduction Act, would cap prescription drug prices at no more than 120% of the prices paid in six foreign countries. The governments of these countries set artificially low reimbursements for drugs.
So by importing foreign price controls, Medicare, Medicaid, and private payers could save hundreds of billions over the next decade – or so we think.
But if the bill were to pass, we would see a drastic reduction in biomedical research and development. It would devastate patients with diseases that don’t have effective treatments – and dramatically curtail the development of new therapies to target cancer, treat rare diseases, or help people with neurological conditions like ALS.
The development of COVID-19 vaccines has demonstrated that the United States is home to the world’s most innovative life science community. Our scientists routinely create life-changing, life-saving drugs that benefit the world.
History and common sense tell us that if the government can just dictate what it pays, businesses will have much less revenue and therefore have no choice but to cut back on research and development.
According to a study by the California Life Sciences Association, HR 3 could reduce the number of new treatments on the market by 88% over a decade. For millions of Americans with autoimmune diseases, including the estimated 40,000 Californians living with lupus, discouraging the discovery of new drugs would be a disaster.
Ironically, HR 3 would exacerbate the health inequalities that Democrats are so passionate about. Patients with autoimmune diseases, for example, are predominantly women and minorities. Lupus is two to three times more likely to strike people of color than whites – and 90% of patients are women.
These diseases should be curable. And they will be, someday, as long as scientists have enough funds to do their research.
HR 3 is not the right solution for American patients. But that doesn’t mean Congress can’t find other ways to help people pay for their drugs. Representative Peters’ bill offers many smart ideas, like capping out reimbursable expenses for Medicare beneficiaries and setting a maximum of $ 50 per month for everyone for insulin.
Patients and their families need affordable treatment; it’s something everyone agrees on. But they also need scientists to continue to research and develop breakthrough drugs. Sacrificing future innovation for short-term financial savings is a lousy business that will ultimately hurt patients.
I applaud Congressman Peters for pushing for a better and more balanced solution. But I’m still worried, as the threat of HR 3 is looming – and it remains a key part of the budget reconciliation bill. I hope other lawmakers will join Representative Peters in working to both preserve our life science ecosystem and expand access to affordable medicines.
Elizabeth Savage is Executive Director of the Lupus Foundation of Southern California.