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Trump Medicare plan gets an ‘F’

Syndicated Columnist
Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“First, do no harm.” 

That’s the most basic and sacrosanct principle in all of medicine, and Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar should take serious note of it before going ahead with a poorly drawn, “race to the bottom” plan to index Medicare Part B drug prices to countries with socialized health care, where government bureaucrats undervalue and tightly ration access to lifesaving drugs and treatments developed here in the United States.

During his campaign, President Trump promised to put a stop to bad trade agreements that rip off American business and workers. He also vowed to protect Medicare, encourage lifesaving medical innovations, and unleash free market forces into the health care system. This so-called “International Price Index” scheme would accomplish none of the above.

Trump’s plan would jeopardize the coming generation of groundbreaking research and medical advancements - and quick access to those breakthroughs for 44 million Medicare recipients - while drastically undervaluing the current generation of Medicare Part B drugs.Whatever price reductions might result from this debacle would not come close to compensating for the permanent, long-term damage.

Here in America, we have medical research figured out. America’s biopharmaceutical industry and American taxpayers - including Medicare recipients who have paid into the system from their first day on the job - have a partnership that is the envy of the world. Other nations know it, and they benefit from our hard-won intellectual property without paying one dime in return. Instead, using mandated price controls that can’t be negotiated, they ration the lifesaving drugs and therapies we develop here in America to their people on the cheap.

It’s the mother of all bad trade agreements.

In fact, Next year, Congress will send more than $36 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for medical research into hundreds of diseases that afflict and destroy the lives of tens of millions of people. America’s biopharmaceutical industry will then add more than $90 billion to take what is learned at NIH and develop new ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and ultimately cure disease. On average, it can take 10 to 15 years, and more than $1 billion, to bring a promising new drug to market.

That’s a lot of time and money, but our system produces real results. Thanks to lifesaving medical research and hundreds of new, highly effective drugs, the life expectancy here in America has almost doubled in just a few generations. Between 2010 and 2018, Americans had access to 95 percent of the hundreds of new cancer drugs and therapies brought to market. By contrast, those percentages drop drastically for nations like Britain, Japan, and Greece, where socialized medicine and price controls undervalue and severely limit access to new drugs.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what would happen if America’s world-class public-private partnership in biomedical research and development were to be clobbered by the same price controls imposed by nations tied to a completely unrealistic “International Price Index.” 

Medicare and Medicare patients would suffer. With its products badly undervalued, America’s biopharmaceutical industry would have no choice but to cut back on expensive, time-consuming research and development into treatments for stubborn and perplexing diseases that widely target Medicare seniors - cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease, just to name a few.

In addition, as supplies of existing drugs become more scarce, Medicare patients would be forced to wait longer to obtain them. Meanwhile, medical conditions become worse and more expensive to treat. That hurts people’s health and drives up the cost of Medicare.

The administration’s plan would also devastate rural hospitals and our entire rural health care delivery system, because small rural communities tend to have older people on Medicare. And the lifeblood of rural health care lies in the ability of small hospitals and clinics to deliver care to Medicare recipients. As Medicare limits access to drugs and become more expensive, rural medical facilities would find it harder to successfully treat Medicare patients, survive economically, and attract good doctors.

Now here’s a better idea for the president and Secretary Azar - instead of allowing other countries with socialized medicine to use our medical research for free and undervalue the drugs we develop here in America, let’s negotiate agreements that require other nations to pay their fair share. That way, we can give NIH a big boost, and save more lives here and all around the world.

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Sara Croom is the executive director at the Trade Alliance to Promote Prosperity. She can be reached at sara@promote-trade.org.