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Health equity promise and that innovation thing

June 4, 2022
The Hill
By Michael W. Hodin

President Biden has pledged his administration to defeat cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases that target America’s aging population. To achieve these lofty goals, bold words must be backed up by bold actions. Yet, many of the administration’s proposed policies will cripple the one indispensable weapon in the battle to conquer disease — medical innovation.

By 2025, 73 million U.S. baby boomers will be age 60 or older. Within the baby boomer generation are countless examples of how medical innovation has enabled people with HIV, Osteoporosis, CVD, and other health conditions to survive and thrive.

Though they might not intend it, the Biden administration seems committed to fighting tomorrow’s battles with yesterday’s medicines rather than encouraging the next generation of innovation. Imagine trying to address climate change without promoting progress in electric vehicles and battery technology. Accepting the old landline as “good enough” and spurning the life-improving advances in mobile technologies or telling us boomers to keep our old Trinitron TVs and forget 21st-century flat-screen innovation.

Consider drug price “negotiation,” which is simply Washington-speak for allowing the government to set prices in Medicare. The result would be fewer drug choices, limiting patients’ access to the most effective medicines to treat their chronic illnesses and stifling future drug innovation. Does anyone really believe this is the path to conquering cancer or Alzheimer’s?

Voters understand the political bait-and-switch. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans oppose drug price “negotiation” if it could lead to less research and development of new treatments or limit access to medicines.

Americans also recognize that the anti-viral therapies and vaccines used to treat chronic conditions like COVID-19, HIV, and cancer would not exist today without deep investments and intellectual property protections that enable biomedical innovation.

Government-controlled drug prices are not only at odds with President Biden’s commitment to defeating difficult diseases but also fly in the face of efforts to close gaps in health care access for underserved communities and improve equity in our country.

In April, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a new strategy to advance health equity and address systemic inequities. We should commend the President and CMS for taking a critical step forward. But the very purpose of that strategy will be undermined if Washington continues to support policies that put more distance between future treatments and cures for conditions like HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes that disproportionately impact the aging community. Equity without innovation is a hollow promise.

CMS has encouraged leaders in the healthcare industry to make commitments and suggestions toward a national strategy to advance health equity. As these individuals contribute their ideas, they must consider the need for this strategy to include America’s aging communities, given that innovation is an essential element of a healthier aging community. We must ensure that seniors have access to the treatments and cures they need through access to existing treatments and the protection of future research and development efforts.

Americans have come to expect innovation in nearly every area of life. We should not accept anything less in health and medical innovation.

Instead of dead-end policies like putting bureaucrats in charge of drug prices, Washington should treat innovation as an investment in our aging communities that can improve the health of older Americans and avoid greater healthcare spending in the future. Support from the Biden administration and Congress for America’s growing aging population and health equity goals starts with making investments in the country’s innovation ecosystem that will be essential in the next decade of aging.

Ask those making the decisions about investing in innovation, and they will tell you that undermining IP and price controls has a very substantial impact. If we want that innovation, the Biden administration and those on The Hill have to send the right policy signals, which, ironically, are opposite of the ones now being conveyed.

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