Guest Opinion: H.R. 3 could hamper prescription availability

Published 11:17 am Thursday, August 12, 2021

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By Shane Desselle

As a pharmacist and pharmacy researcher, I watch cutting-edge medicines save and improve patients’ lives every day.

And as the father of a daughter with ulcerative colitis (UC) – an autoimmune condition that causes severe bowel problems and potentially life-threatening bleeds – I’ve seen firsthand why it’s important for patients to have access to a wide variety of treatments. UC often requires trial and error to find the right medication that works for the patient. I shudder to think what would happen if my daughter could not access the drugs her doctor prescribes.

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That is why I’m so concerned about a recently introduced bill. In a well-intentioned effort to make medicines more affordable, lawmakers are considering legislation that would base U.S. drug reimbursements, in both Medicare and private insurance plans, off of drug reimbursements in other developed countries.

The problem is that the government-run healthcare systems in those countries – France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom – centrally set drug prices while failing to take into account those drugs’ value and cost-benefit, while also failing to cover certain cutting-edge medicines. Patients in those nations cannot access certain lifesaving drugs. Fewer than two-thirds of new medicines created worldwide from 2011 to 2018 are available in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. Fewer than 50 percent of them are accessible in Canada and France.

In the United States, meanwhile, the competitive marketplace ensures that patients have greater access to medicines than anywhere else. Nearly 90 percent of medicines created over that seven-year period are available here.

Mimicking other countries’ reimbursement policies would inevitably slow down, or entirely prevent, drug launches here in the United States.

The bill in question, designated H.R. 3, would also make patients worse off in the long-run by discouraging lifesaving research. It costs $2.6 billion, on average, to develop a new medicine. That price tag is largely due to drug developers’ high failure rate – fewer than 12 percent of experimental medicines in clinical development ultimately receive FDA approval and reach pharmacy shelves.

Instituting price controls would make their potential investment into research and development that much more risky. A study by Vital Transformation, an international health economics firm, found that there would have been at least 60 fewer drugs available to patients over the next decade if H.R. 3 had become law.

America boasts some of the world’s brightest scientific minds, as well as current capacity to foster innovation. There is nothing to gain in the short- nor long-term by starving scientists of the R&D funding they need to find new treatments for Crohn’s disease, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other serious ailments. But even more importantly, it makes no sense to stifle treatments that can cure and promote a better quality of life for people like my daughter.

None of my fellow pharmacists ever wants to tell a patient, “sorry, we can’t fill that prescription.” But that’s exactly what we’ll be saying if Congress passes this misguided bill.

Shane Desselle, Ph.D. is president of Applied Pharmacy Solutions.