Why Democrats’ prescription drug pricing provision would have hurt seniors

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A few brave Democrats recently stood up to their more radical colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, blocking a particularly dangerous part of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending bill from passing a key congressional committee. 

The winners of this display of courage? American seniors and patients who live with disabilities. 

Democratic Party leadership is trying to completely upend and change how and whether people can get their medicines in Medicare. Right now, private health plans negotiate discounts for medicines in the Medicare Part D program. Democrats want to insert the government into the middle of these negotiations and let Washington decide what medicines seniors can and can’t get. 

There are real problems in our health care system, and I agree with my former boss, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), that “too many Americans have had to make the impossible choice between putting food on their tables or paying for their prescriptions.” But interference by government bureaucrats into the decisions made by you and your doctor is not the answer.

Many Democrats will tell you that letting the government “negotiate” for medicines in Medicare Part D will save money. What they don’t say is that in order to save that money, the government will have to pick and choose what medicines it will and will not cover. 

How can letting the government interfere in private medical decisions ensure better health outcomes for seniors, protect patient-doctor choice, and continue to maintain America’s competitive advantage when it comes to the development of new medicines? 

The answer is it won’t. 

Lower costs don’t mean much if it results in allowing the government — instead of patients and their doctors — to decide which drugs are available to seniors and which health outcomes will be sacrificed.

Lower costs will also not mean much if no manufacturer is willing to take on the risk of developing a new therapy, especially for rare diseases. The cost of such breakthrough drugs can surpass $2 billion and take over a decade to bring to market. If such research stops, our progress in saving lives from existing diseases, and future pandemics, stops as well. 

It is equally important that we do this while maintaining America’s competitive advantage when it comes to the development of new medicines. There’s a reason why America led the way in the creation and production of COVID-19 vaccines. In less than a year, our domestic pharmaceutical industry delivered life-saving vaccines from a once in a century pandemic. Many foreign countries reliant on vaccine donations from the international community were adamant about receiving the American-made vaccines. Therefore, any changes to our current system needs to ensure that America maintains its role as the leading developer of new and emerging therapies. 

I, for one, do not want to rely on drugs from foreign competitors like China and I do not believe our seniors, or any Americans, should either. 

The risk remains that Democrats will find a way to impose their plan to eliminate the ability of seniors and people with disabilities, and their doctors, to choose the best drug for them. This would have the biggest impact on the people who are older or have a disability. 

I should know. I myself am in a wheelchair following an accident in which I lost the ability to walk. 

Thankfully, there is a solution that lowers cost while allowing Americans to keep their medicines and maintains our country’s competitive and innovative advantage. 

Sen. Scott recently joined some of his colleagues in introducing the “Lower Costs, More Cures Act” in the Senate. In introducing the bill, Scott said that it “takes important steps… making prescription medications more affordable by increasing accountability for drug manufacturers and encouraging innovation.” The Act would cap annual out-of-pocket costs in Medicare and decrease seniors’ cost-sharing before the cap is reached. Importantly, the bill codifies a Trump administration regulation that limits out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $35. And it also works to safeguard America’s competitive advantage by creating a U.S. trade negotiator that will exist solely to put American patients first in future international trade deals and prevent foreign countries from getting a free ride on America’s innovation engine.

Unlike radical proposals from Democratic leadership, the Lower Costs, More Cures Act will deliver real progress in lowering drug costs while ensuring that America continues to be the leader in delivering new cures for all. 

I am thankful to Sen. Scott and his colleagues for working to find meaningful, balanced, and equitable solutions for our seniors and all Americans. I hope more Democrats follow their lead.

Shay Hawkins is the president of the Opportunity Matters Network and previously served as lead policy adviser to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) who was the first Black man ever elected to both the U.S. House and Senate. A native Ohioan, Shay also served as tax counsel to Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), where he was part of a team of attorneys that developed a comprehensive tax reform plan.

Tags Jim Renacci Joe Biden Tim Scott

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