Opinion: Drug Pricing Reform Should Be About Saving Lives Through Innovation

By Kyle Keeney

Around the world, millions of patients, suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, and many other chronic diseases, are holding onto hope that one day soon there will be a cure—and America’s biopharmaceutical companies are dedicated to turning these hopes into reality.  

We all recently witnessed the power of innovation when the world needed a life-saving vaccine during a global pandemic. America’s biopharmaceutical industry stepped up to the plate and delivered in record time.  

Researchers and scientists continue working hard to develop new treatments that could one day be the difference between life and death. But a new drug pricing proposal—one that’s driven more by talking points than helping people access their medicines—making its way through Congress could stop new cures in their tracks. 

Despite claims from some lawmakers, the Prescription Drug Pricing Reform included in the reconciliation bill will do nothing to help patients and instead will slow the innovation that promises new medications, treatments and cures that could save lives. 

This drug pricing proposal implements government price controls for prescription drugs covered by Medicare, which proponents claim will lower costs. But under this plan, the federal government would essentially have the power to dictate prices for specific medicines and treatments. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies—which invest billions of dollars annually in research and development to come up with safe, effective, new treatments and medications—would be forced to choose between accepting the government price or having their medicine excluded from the Medicare program and the patients who depend on it.  

We can all agree that rising healthcare costs are unsustainable and must be addressed. But we need a holistic approach to truly make healthcare more affordable for all Americans. Government price controls on our medicines—which is just one part of the healthcare cost equation—is not the solution and will only lead to less innovation while restricting access to care.   

In fact, data proves that establishing a Medicare price-setting system would cost the pharmaceutical industry $1.5 trillion over ten years while delivering little out-of-pocket savings for patients. And with the reduction in biopharmaceutical research and development, 15 fewer new, lifesaving medicines would enter the market over the next 30 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  

Despite their good intentions, price controls just aren’t an effective way to control healthcare costs. The real impact will be limiting access to innovative care for our most vulnerable patient populations.  

Now is the time that we should be investing in and strengthening our biopharmaceutical industry, which brought three lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines to market in one year and has been responsible for thousands of other new treatments and medications—but these so-called reforms will do just the opposite. 

Rather than pushing through highly political and shortsighted government price controls, Congress should focus instead on patient-centered solutions that increase access to quality, affordable care while fostering robust biopharmaceutical research and development. That means reining in pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the drug pricing middlemen, who needlessly raise prescription drug costs at the expense of patients and providers while their profit margins soar, and encouraging industrywide innovation. 

At a time when the biopharmaceutical industry is developing more treatments and therapies than ever before, we cannot afford to take a step backwards, which is precisely what will happen under the current reconciliation plan. 

Patients across the country—and around the globe—will benefit from the industry’s efforts to deliver cures for the most complex and debilitating diseases. But there’s no question that important and innovative work will be stifled if the government interferes with something that should be left to the free market to determine. 

On behalf of the life sciences industry, we strongly urge Congress to vote no on these bad idea drug pricing provisions that will undermine American innovation and jeopardize access to care now and in the decades to come. Healthcare should be about saving lives through innovation, not scoring political points, and we hope our elected officials agree. 

About the Author

Kyle Keeney is the President and CEO of the Kentucky Life Sciences Council.