Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Have Pharmaceutical Companies Been Unfair to American Consumers? No: What U.S. Consumers Pay for Medicines Is Far Outweighed by the Lives Saved and Extended by New Drugs Coming from the R&D Pipeline

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Have Pharmaceutical Companies Been Unfair to American Consumers? No: What U.S. Consumers Pay for Medicines Is Far Outweighed by the Lives Saved and Extended by New Drugs Coming from the R&D Pipeline

Article excerpt

Byline: Alan F. Holmer, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

M odern medicines may not all be miracles but they certainly work wonders. Prescription medicines provide the best value in health care. They not only save lives, they save money. They reduce the costs of other more expensive forms of health care and keep patients out of the hospital, out of nursing homes, out of emergency rooms, out of surgery and in the home and on the job. Modern medicines developed in large part by the U.S. pharmaceutical-research industry enable patients all over the world to lead longer, healthier and more productive lives.

Industry critics fail to acknowledge the true value provided by prescription medicines. They also fail to acknowledge the risks and costs of pharmaceutical innovation. And they inaccurately claim that the federal government substantially subsidizes the development of new medicines and that drug prices are too high. These distortions and inaccuracies will be rebutted by the facts.

Critics also complain about the difference in the cost of medicines in the United States and abroad. The difference stems from the fact that foreign governments impose price controls on prescription medicines, but the citizens of those countries pay a high price for these controls. The controls undermine the competitiveness of the pharmaceutical industries in these countries and drive them to transfer research and development operations to the United States, where the relatively free pharmaceutical market encourages the development of new medicines. And the price controls in foreign countries substantially limit and delay the access of patients to the newest and most effective cures and treatments that in many cases long have been available to American patients.

Life expectancy is increasing, infant mortality is decreasing, disability rates among the elderly are falling and progress continues against many diseases. "These improvements in key components of our public's health all point to one source: major pharmaceutical breakthroughs in the 1990s," health-care analyst J.D. Kleinke wrote in the September/October 2001 issue of Health Affairs.

In a June 9 speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Mark McClellan stated: "As a result of changes in health care, millions of heart-attack patients who several decades ago would have died quickly or would be given largely comfort care for heart failure can now expect to live a long and high-quality life. Diabetics who used to see a relentless progression to heart disease, kidney failure or worse can now often throw away their needles. Even cancer patients who often faced long odds and miserable chemotherapy are experiencing longer lives, and fewer and shorter serious side effects of treatment.

"Some economists who have looked closely actually estimate that the value to society of the longer and better lives that have resulted from translating new biomedical knowledge into steps to prevent and slow diseases is worth literally many trillions of dollars in better health in particular, the value of biomedical innovation to our nation equals the value of innovation in all other sectors of the American economy combined."

Numerous studies prove the cost-effectiveness of modern medicines. In a March 2002 study, for example, spending increased fourfold for Alzheimer's patients who were receiving drug therapy, but total health spending for these patients declined by one-third. Average prescription-drug costs for the patients receiving treatment was $1,046 higher than for the control group that did not receive such treatment. However, the patients who received drug therapy had inpatient hospital costs that were $2,883 lower than the costs for patients in the control group.

With a pipeline of more than 1,000 new medicines in development, pharmaceutical companies using cutting-edge science are developing even better, more effective therapies that increasingly will be tailored to the needs of individual patients. …

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