Wonder Drugs at Wonderful Prices

Article excerpt

Research by the National Institutes of Health is paving the way for drug treatment for clogged arteries, which can cause heart attacks. The agency says human trials of an experimental drug could begin within two years. The experimental heart drug could trim billions of dollars off heart treatment. Many patients now rely on bypass operations and balloon angioplasties. Roughly 700,000 such operations are performed each year, costing anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 each.

A promising drug is the kind of medical breakthrough that the pharmaceutical industry likes to cite in explaining what it is doing to reduce the cost of health care. But such breakthroughs shouldn't ease federal pressure to make the industry hold down prices of newly developed drugs.

Government must make sure that breakthrough drugs lead to breakthrough prices. The industry argues that drugs that make surgery less necessary means pharmaceuticals are the most cost-effective players in the health-reform debate. The industry notes, for example, that $1.3 billion in direct medical costs for treating polio have been avoided by the introduction of a polio vaccine. This and other examples are used to make the case against the Clinton administration's health-care proposals.

In an attempt to control medical costs, the administration wants the industry to discount drugs used by Medicare recipients. …