Shutting off the miracle-drug spigot

New York Post
November 7, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right last week when she called her latest health-care-reform proposal an “historic moment”: After decades of life-saving and cost-cutting scientific innovations from drug and medical-device companies, the government is about to step in and stifle the R&D [research and development] that is our best hope for improving health outcomes.

Pelosi’s bill may cost pharmaceutical companies $150 billion over a decade — nearly double the amount they conceded when they cut a White House-approved deal with Sen. Max Baucus this summer.

The Pelosi bill is a prescription for fewer new life-saving drugs. By stifling innovation, it would hurt not only industry, but also all of us who’d benefit from new-drug development.

Democrats in Washington are out to cut health-care costs at the expense of the research-intensive (as opposed to generic) pharmaceutical industry. Yet drugs often improve the span and quality of life in a remarkably cost-effective way.

Innovative new drugs have helped many patients avoid costly hospitalization, for example. From 1980 to 2000, the number of days in the hospital per 100 people fell from 129.7 to 56.6, a drop of 56 percent — so that Americans avoided 206 million days of hospital care in 2000 alone, according to Medtap International, which provides health economics and outcomes-research services.

And a study in 2000 sponsored by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research concluded that increased use of a blood-thinning drug would prevent 40,000 strokes a year, saving $600 million annually. A 1997 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found the costs of treatment per episode of major depression fell by 25 percent from 1991 to 1995, largely as a result of new medicines.

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