New York Post
Clinton revives one of her worst ‘reform’ ideas
THE zombie scheme to control drug costs by having the government set prices is back from the dead. Pundits in Forbes, The New Yorker and the Huffington Post have been raging about the “unsustainable” price of new cancer drugs all year. But anger about drug prices really went viral when Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, hiked the price of a generic tuberculosis drug he acquired by 5,000 percent.
Now pricecontrol proposals are on the ballot in California, Ohio, Massachusetts and other states. Unsurprisingly, such plans are supported and encouraged by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who warned she’d rein in prices.
Biotechnology stocks fell: Investors remembered what happened the last time Clinton went on a pricecontrol mission.
But not everyone does. To refresh:
As first lady and in charge of the Bill Clinton administration’s healthcare reform effort, Hillary accused “greedy” drug companies of exorbitant price increases for vaccines. In 1993, she first pro posed nationalizing the vaccine industry. She settled for a Vaccines for Children Program that saw the federal government buy up over half of all available vaccines at governmentset prices.
The result? Companies stopped producing and investing in vaccines. The United States started experiencing vaccine shortages.
In 1994, the Health Security Act called for the federal government to deny coverage for Medicare patients using drugs deemed “excessively priced” by a public commission. Under the Clinton plan, physicians or pharmacists had to obtain prior approval from the government before prescribing or dispensing to Medicare patients a drug deemed not costeffective.
Back then, Hillary’s advisers — doctors pretending to be economists — told biotech startups to focus on big targets like heart attacks instead of on rare illnesses like cystic fibrosis and Gaucher’s disease. You see, these “experts” were confident that the government and insurers could come up with “reasonable” prices for new medicines and determine which ones were really necessary.
The biotechnology industry took years to recover.
As a dry run for these price controls, the Clinton administration supported a “reasonable pricing clause” that required companies that collaborated with scientists from the National Institutes of Health to limit the initial price of breakthrough drugs. The clause required the NIH to base prices on future profits and the amount companies spent on research and development. As a result, private industry partnerships with NIH were cut by 70 percent.
The vaccine price controls were scrapped. So were the restrictions on companies doing business with the NIH. The government price commission was mothballed.
Since then, vaccines have become a platform technology for treating all types of diseases, including cancer and rare pediatric diseases, as well as delivering stem cells. Biotech investment started to increase again. In recent years a steady stream of new medicines to treat HIV, hepatitis C, cancer, cystic fibrosis and heart disease have become available.
Countries with price controls haven’t made as much progress against such illnesses. And we don’t have to go overseas to see the impact of Clinton’s prescriptions: The role model for HillaryCare was the Veterans Administration. Now the VA is the unfunniest joke in America’s healthcare system. Its approach to drug access and pricing has ensured veterans are sicker and die sooner than people whose drug prices and utilization aren’t controlled.
Clinton leads a pack of politicians who smell an opportunity to win votes by punishing successful industries. She has rolled out the same mix of counterproductive policies that have undermined medical innovation in the past: Governmentset prices, governmentrequired levels of R&D and government panels — in partnership with health insurers — blacklisting medicines that don’t help their political and financial bottom lines.
It’s easy to support price controls on drugs, especially when Shkreli, the poster child for greed, takes to Tinder to justify his actions. But it’s important to imagine what life would be like if new vaccines and medicines for Ebola, HIV, cancer or multiple sclerosis didn’t exist. Cutting prices would have cut new drug development by up to 60 percent. It still would.
Those supporting pricecontrol proposals at the state and federal level should remember that we dodged a bullet by rejecting and reversing price controls.
Hillary Clinton, more than any other politician, should know that.
Robert Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.