I should be dead.
I’ve survived two cancer diagnoses, two strokes, a heart attack, kidney failure, a coma, arthritis and systematic lupus. I’ve fought my way out of a wheelchair, abandoned my crutches, and relearned how to walk.
None of that would have been possible without the development of new medical treatments, which have saved and improved my life and the lives of 133 million Americans suffering from chronic diseases. Now, some politicians could jeopardize continued medical progress by capping pharmaceutical prices.
Price controls will sap drug companies’ incentives to invest in new treatments. To encourage development of lifesaving medicines, lawmakers across the country — and in Washington — must steer clear of price controls.
For half a century, there was no treatment specifically targeting lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes swelling and organ damage. The 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with the condition were forced to turn to painkillers, steroids, and anti-malarial drugs, which caused a host of unpleasant side effects, including bone fractures and infection.
But in 2011, the FDA approved Benlysta, a breakthrough treatment that significantly mutes the disease’s activity for many patients.
The medicine improves patients’ quality of life, and is also good for our economy. Between treatment, hospital visits and lost productivity, each lupus diagnosis costs the American economy $20,000 a year. Previously, two out of three such patients could not work full time. Benlysta enables many patients to manage their disease and return to the workforce, boosting economic output.
Pharmaceutical innovation has also improved the lives of those who suffer from HIV/AIDS, which was a death sentence just a generation ago. The introduction of powerful “drug cocktails” cut the death rate from HIV/AIDS by 85 percent, preventing more than 860,000 premature fatalities. The resulting increase in productivity has helped the economy grown by $615 billion, according to Truven Health Analytics.
The pace of medical innovation is increasing. People at risk of contracting HIV can now take a pill that prevents infection. Today, 3.2 million Americans with hepatitis C can use several drugs that boast 90 percent cure rates. These medicines didn’t exist just a few years ago.
Such medical progress has immeasurably improved many patients’ lives. And it has offered hope to millions of other people, who are afflicted with diseases that are still untreatable or incurable.
However, lawmakers could undermine this progress by imposing price controls on the newest — and thus the most expensive — medicines. On average, it costs pharmaceutical companies $2.6 billion to bring a new drug onto the market. And for every 10 drugs to hit the pharmacy shelves, only three will ever turn a profit. Capping prices on these successful drugs will deprive companies of the revenue that funds development of future treatments.
Massachusetts legislators are pushing a bill that would explicitly cap drug prices. Other states, including Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Oregon, are considering laws that could lead to price controls. And federal officials want to install de facto price controls in the Medicare Part D program that provides medications to 37 million seniors.
Price controls are doubly harmful. In pursuing lower drug costs through price caps, lawmakers will deprive patients of treatments and cures. And without those medications to keep patients healthy and productive, the economy will suffer, too.
If lawmakers want to ensure patients receive effective care, they should abandon plans to cap drug prices.
Dorothy Leone-Glasser is the executive director of Advocates for Responsible Care, which is based in Atlanta.