Next week, the House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation — known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act — aims to expand Obamacare exchange subsidies and help more Americans obtain affordable health coverage amidst COVID-19 and an economic recession.
That is certainly an admirable endeavor. Unfortunately, instead of simply allocating funding for these new subsidies, the legislation unnecessarily employs a “pay for.” The pay for would impose onerous price controls on medications and penalize the U.S. innovators who are investing in breakthrough research.
This financing approach could cripple drug development and prevent America’s disadvantaged groups — particularly the Latinx community — from accessing new treatments. As we continue to battle the worst public health crisis in modern history, we cannot allow a potential coronavirus cure to die in the research lab because of a misguided proposal.
The new legislation’s pay for comes from H.R. 3 — the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 — which passed the House late last year. It would specifically draw revenue from Title I of the bill, which enables the federal government to cap the price of up to 250 brand-name medications at 120 percent of their value in six other nations. If any drug manufacturers fail to comply with the price cap, they would face exorbitant fines totaling up to 95 percent of their sales revenue.
Rather than casting a lifeline to Americans, that would derail the research and development efforts needed to deliver patients from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pharmaceutical companies spend a significant portion of their revenue developing new drugs — roughly 20 percent on average. But this new bill would slash drug manufacturers’ revenues by $1 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That’s $200 billion that would no longer be invested in innovation. Unsurprisingly, the proposal would result in 100 fewer drugs making it to consumer shelves over that period, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors.
As COVID-19 has come roaring back, the last thing we need is to slow down our development of new drugs. U.S. scientists have made incredible strides towards vaccines and therapies for the virus — stopping now could prevent millions of Americans from surviving this pandemic.
But the bill would not only keep a possible COVID-19 vaccine or treatment from reaching patients. Funding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act would likely bring about shortages of existing drugs that hundreds of millions of Americans currently rely on to manage their health.
At particular risk are members of Latinx community, who suffer from chronic illness at higher rates than other members of the U.S. population. Approximately half of LatinX adults in this country live with an underlying condition, like diabetes and lung disease.
Given that those with chronic disease are 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19, it’s imperative that Latinx Americans have access to the medication they need to stay as healthy as possible. Already, Latinx Americans are hospitalized twice as often as white Americans once they contract COVID-19. Depriving these individuals of their medications will only make the problem more acute.
While Congress should continue to look for ways to provide America’s vulnerable communities with the health care they deserve, this bill is a dead end. Rather than helping those in need, it would create barriers between patients and the medications they rely on. And in the process, it would stifle much-needed medical innovation for years to come.
Latinx Americans are not just depending on U.S. scientists to deliver breakthroughs for COVID-19. They’re also counting on new therapies for a host of conditions that they disproportionately suffer from — including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act becomes law, there’s little chance this innovation will come to fruition. Let’s hope Congress does the right thing.