By Frances Preston

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Representative Greg Walden has stood up for Oregon patients time and again. The 2nd District representative has authored a law to combat our nation’s opioid crisis, spearheaded a bill to offer patients greater drug price transparency at the pharmacy counter and helped advance comprehensive legislation to fund childhood cancer research.

A worrying new proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services means Oregon patients are once again in need of Rep. Walden’s voice.

The HHS proposal would drastically alter the way Medicare pays for medications administered in doctor’s offices, hospitals and clinics. The changes would stifle the development of next-generation cures and punish U.S. patients by cutting off their access to lifesaving medicines. Of course, HHS isn’t deliberately trying to harm patients. Agency officials hope the proposal will result in lower drug prices. On average, the medicines affected by the proposal cost 80 percent more in the United States than in other developed nations.

These drugs are cheaper abroad because nations with socialist healthcare systems refuse to pay market prices for medications. They won’t approve drugs for sale unless pharmaceutical manufacturers offer enormous discounts.

That puts drug manufacturers in a bind. Either they refuse to sell to foreign nations who undervalue their products, or they accept pennies on the dollar for the treatments. Many choose the latter. And as a result, American patients are left paying market prices while the rest of the world freeloads off our research efforts. The United States accounts for just 5 percent of the world’s population but invents about 50 percent of all new drugs.

This global freeloading is unfair to American research companies, their shareholders and the 4.8 million workers — including more than 18,500 Oregonians — whose jobs are supported by the pharmaceutical industry. Instead of cracking down on foreign free-riders, HHS officials want to mimic their behavior. Currently, Medicare reimbursements for drugs administered in doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals reflect each medicine’s average U.S. sales price. Under the new proposal, Medicare would index reimbursements to the average prices in 14 other developed countries, including Germany, Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Over time, the proposal would reduce Medicare spending on these medications by roughly 30 percent.

Adopting these nations’ price controls would have devastating consequences for American patients, who would lose access to life-enhancing medications. Because America has a relatively free market for medications, drug manufacturers in every nation seek out FDA approval to sell their medicines here in the United States. And they often debut their medicines in America before expanding to other countries. American patients have access to roughly 90 percent of new medicines launched between 2011 and 2018. Patients in the other 14 reference countries can access fewer than half those drugs, on average.

Making the U.S. market less attractive for manufacturers would mean fewer drug launches.

The proposal would also discourage researchers from creating next-generation cures. Innovation doesn’t come cheap. On average, it takes 10 years and $2.6 billion to develop a new drug. Innovators must have the ability to earn back their initial investments to continue funding new drug projects. Oregonians need more, not fewer, breakthrough treatments. Already, about 500,000 residents suffer from three or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. That number will swell to 1.1 million by 2030.

As chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Congressman Walden oversees the Department of Health and Human Services. Oregonians, especially those with chronic conditions, can only hope that Rep. Walden once again takes a stand for patients and encourages HHS to withdraw its misguided proposal.

— Frances Preston of Prairie City is chair of the Grant County Republican Party.

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