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Opinion: What will it take to make Missouri healthier?


There are things we can control about our health and others we cannot. No matter how much we exercise or eat right, sometimes we get sick. Genes can affect our susceptibility to certain conditions; my own family tree has a long line of medical concerns. By the same token, any of us could be exposed to Lyme disease on a beautiful hike or catch a particularly virulent case of the flu.

These realities we must accept. What we should not permit, however, is for government to get in the way of the biopharmaceutical innovation delivering increasingly effective medicines to treat and prevent various forms of disease. We need scientists out there discovering new therapies, cures, and vaccines to improve and extend our lives. 

Jay Van Luven

This is true for mental as well as physical health. My wife works in the mental health space, and she frequently advocates for better therapeutic options for people with schizophrenia, severe depression, and other disorders. They need medications to provide greater symptom relief with fewer side effects.

Pharmaceutical companies and exciting biotech startups are hard at work on these problems. These private enterprises seek to end cancer, improve autoimmune disease treatment, relieve psychiatric disorders, and more. And there is every reason to expect success. After all, these are the same companies that in less than one year supplied us with the tools to fight a deadly pandemic.

The highly effective Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines against COVID-19, as well as therapies like remdesivir and monoclonal antibody infusions, are the product of a competitive, free-market economic system. A strong biopharmaceutical sector with decades of high-quality research to draw on marshaled the expertise, research facilities, and sheer manufacturing might to save hundreds of thousands of American lives from COVID-19 in the past six months alone. 

My fear is that the U.S. may soon turn its back on the very same advantages that enabled us to become the strongest performing country for COVID-19 vaccination. Even as we continue to battle local coronavirus resurgences, our leaders in Washington, D.C., are considering legislation that could leave us more vulnerable to the next public health crisis while also robbing millions of patients of hope. 

Of particular concern is HR 3. This bill before Congress has an appealing name, the “Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act,” but it hides a dark underbelly. The plan would allow government bureaucrats to determine the prices for medications — not based on how much they cost to develop and produce, but rather on the amount other countries will pay for them.

This old idea always exerts a Siren’s call on politicians. Such government-price setting schemes appear to offer Americans the same “deal” on prescription drugs as people in other parts of the world. The reason similar measures have been repeatedly rejected — this promise is a mirage. 

Government price-setting is no deal. It forces patients to sacrifice their access to innovative treatments. 

Imagine you have cancer. If you’re in the U.S., you can receive 96 percent of cancer therapies launched since 2011. If you’re in Canada, you can obtain only 56 percent of these breakthrough treatments because the government-set prices are too low to purchase the others. 

What if the therapy you can’t get is the one that could save your life?

The fact is, governments don’t do a good job of setting prices, and they cannot optimize pharmaceutical development as competitive markets can. For instance, China’s COVID-19 vaccines, developed under a top-down authoritarian system, have proven ineffective. U.S. vaccines, on the other hand, almost eliminate serious cases and deaths from COVID-19 and have us on a path back to normal.

There is no comparison — the U.S. has the best system in place to accelerate biopharmaceutical advancement so we can help today’s patients, beat the pandemics of tomorrow, and ultimately cure all types of disease. 

So what will it take to make Missouri healthier? Keeping the government’s hands off the pharmaceutical sector so that life-saving, life-improving innovations will continue to flow.