Health-care debaters should recognize that we need innovation

 Health-care debaters should recognize that we need innovation
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It’s hard to defend pharmaceutical companies. Their TV ads are annoying and drug prices are a problem for many people. With health-care negotiations uncertain, there’s no doubt the industry will remain in the hot seat, and rightfully so in some cases. 

But the fact is that I am alive today because of what those companies do. I imagine everyone reading this can say the same about themselves or a loved one. So, I don’t give them a free pass, but I also don’t vilify them. 

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I lead a national organization that provides free, professional support services for anyone affected by cancer. Patients, their loved ones, friends and colleagues can receive counseling, attend support groups and receive financial assistance through our programs. Everyone who uses our services wants the same thing: hope. We hope for a better quality of life, a longer life. We hope for a cure. And this hope comes only from medical innovation, led by the pharmaceutical industry. 

 

There are amazing advances in standards of care happening right under our noses; we are pushing the needle forward in cancer therapies to effectiveness levels we’ve never seen before. But in many ways, while the science is advancing, the hope in accessing those treatments is fading. 

Politicians like to talk about two Americas; what I see are two levels of care: those who have insurance and can afford to pay high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, therefore getting the best treatment; and increasingly, those who are literally or practically prevented from access to insurance coverage.

As patients, we want the best — and often newest — treatment possible when we’re sick. That treatment is likely to be expensive, but our system of insurance is designed to ensure we will be covered and have access to the health care we need. We pay when we’re healthy so we are covered when we’re sick. That’s how it’s supposed to work; yet it’s just not the reality, which has consequences for us all. 

It’s important to realize that the un-affordability of new treatments not only prevents the underinsured from access to new life-saving therapies. By limiting sales volume, it also stifles manufacturer revenues, which in turn hinders investment in medical innovation.

And if we continue down this path to creating a system that discourages investment in therapeutic advances, then we may never find a cure to cancer. That scares me, and it should scare you too. 

I have the pleasure of working with a beloved colleague named Cindy, who has lived for more than 20 years with Stage 4, metastatic lung cancer. She’s a miracle, and she’s only alive today because of the pharmaceutical industries’ advances in research and development of new drugs and treatments. Cindy comes to work each day and helps hundreds of other patients; she says it gives her life meaning to keep giving to others. 

Cindy gives us all hope. She gives us hope that the investment in new innovation continues. Hope that all patients will be able to access the best available treatments options. 

Yet, pharmaceutical companies are the scapegoat in the Great American Healthcare Crisis of rising costs and two levels of care. When it’s deserved, I’m all for it. Access to insurance coverage however, is also a critical element of the crisis and it has been largely immune from public scrutiny. To me, it seems that Insurers use drug companies’ high prices to justify their cost-shifting, access restraints, and premium increases, while conserving their own profits. 

It’s time for health-care debaters to recognize that we need innovation. And we also need drug companies and insurers to work collaboratively so that innovation is preserved and access to advances in treatment is available to all patients in need.

I am not so cynical as to believe that doctors and researchers at pharmaceutical companies spend countless hours in laboratories because of corporate greed. Furthermore, I’m certain that trying to find cures for cancer, AIDS, Zika, Ebola, Superbugs and other diseases is incredibly complex and expensive. Cindy and I will wake up tomorrow morning because of their hard work and tenacious commitment to transforming hope to reality. And that’s worth a lot more than some people realize. 

Patricia Goldsmith is the CEO of CancerCare a New York City based organization dedicated to providing free, professional support services including counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications and financial assistance to anyone affected by cancer.