A woman protests Big Pharma, calling for lower drug prices.
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As reforms make their way through Congress, Big Pharma’s ad campaigns are in full swing.
The ads are full of misleading claims designed to frighten patients and thwart reforms that would lower drug prices.
Don’t listen to their propaganda. These are the reasons their claims are false.
David Mitchell is a cancer patient and founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs, the only national, bipartisan patient organization focused solely on policies to lower drug prices.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Big Pharma may not have found a cure for my cancer, but it has perfected the science of twisting facts that it doesn’t like to scare patients like me into believing that lowering drug prices will bring us great harm. This propaganda campaign is in full swing right now in the fight over reforms making their way through Congress.
The pharmaceutical industry and its operatives are bankrolling more than $23.7 million in ad campaigns opposing direct Medicare negotiation and repeal of the so-called “non-interference clause.” These ads are from PhRMA itself, Medicare Today, the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor-Management Association, the American Conservative Union, and other industry-allied groups. The ads are full of demonstrably misleading claims designed to frighten patients and thwart reforms.
It’s time to set the record straight: Lower drug prices are good for Americans.
Here’s why Pharma’s claims are false
The pharma industry says some members of Congress want to “repeal a protection in Medicare that protects access to medicines.” These ads are referencing the “non-interference clause” in Medicare Part D, which has nothing to do with determining which drugs patients can access under Medicare. The non-interference clause states that the secretary of Health and Human Services “may not interfere with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and prescription drug plan sponsors.” It was inserted into the Medicare Modernization Act after intense lobbying by the pharma industry and its allies to ensure drug corporations could dictate prices on brand-name drugs.
Big Pharma says Medicare negotiation proposals would enable government bureaucrats to “limit which drugs patients have access to.” But there are no congressional proposals that suggest implementing a government-imposed list to limit drug availability, or seek to change the long-standing policy under Medicare to cover drugs for all conditions, with at least two medications in each drug class. Drug price negotiation bills simply aim to achieve affordable prices for taxpayers and patients.
Pharma says negotiation would reduce access and “make it harder for people on Medicare to get the medications [they] need.” The biggest barrier to patient access is high prices. Right now, 1 in 3 adults do not take medication as prescribed due to cost. Without reform, more than 1.1 million Medicare patients could die over the next decade because they cannot afford to pay for their prescription medications. The Congressional Budget Office says lower drug prices achieved by negotiation would increase access and improve health – resulting in less money spent on medical visits and hospitalizations.
Pharma says Medicare negotiation will “stifle innovation and discovery of new medicines.” Rather, reforms like Medicare negotiation would reward clinically meaningful drugs with prices that stimulate innovation – not thwart it. As long as drug companies retain their current power to block competition and raise prices at will on old drugs to drive profits and trigger executive bonuses, they have far less incentive to take risk and invest in research and development to find innovative new drugs that could command high prices and save lives. If Medicare makes clear it wants to pay the best prices for the best drugs, negotiation will stimulate innovation as companies pursue those prices.
Pharma also says Medicare negotiation would import “European-style price controls.” Negotiation is a core tenet of a free market, not “European-style price controls.” The government negotiates for everything it buys, from aircraft carriers to copy paper. The federal government negotiates physician, hospital, lab, and durable medical equipment prices. The pharmaceutical industry is the only healthcare sector exempt from negotiation with Medicare. The proposal for negotiation would simply end special treatment for drug makers.
The pharma industry says policy proposals like HR 3 would “cost America thousands of jobs.” But the fact is, large, brand-name drug corporations could lose $1 trillion in sales over a decade and still be the most profitable industry in the nation. Given that the Congressional Budget Office found that even this sizable reduction in revenue would reduce the number of drugs coming to market by only 2-5% over a decade, drug corporations’ claims of widespread job loss are far-fetched.
Moreover, legislation that increases government spending on research and development through the National Institutes of Health can help to fuel more drug development and job opportunities in the private sector. It’s notable that Medicare negotiation is supported by the nation’s premier worker organization, the AFL-CIO.
If Big Pharma spent more time working on innovative new drugs and less time protecting its power to dictate high prices, we’d get more of what we seek: innovation we need at prices we can afford.