Biden's Build Back Better would do real damage to medical innovation just when we need it most
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In Washington, D.C., no good deed ever seems to go unpunished. And so it is with innovators in our medical industry—companies that produce break through drugs, vaccines, and high-tech medical devices. As almost never before, these companies are under assault by Congress for the sin of being profitable.
The most pernicious threat is the set of price controls on drug companies contained in the Build Back Better bill that passed the House and is now before the Senate. This would take up to half a trillion dollars of profits out of drug and vaccine manufacturers—which may reduce prices in the short run at the cost of slowing the race for the cure in the next generation of wonder drugs.
Or consider the astounding health benefits from new medical devices, particularly sophisticated imaging machines (MRIs, CTs, PET scanners) which patients and healthcare providers rely on for diagnosis and care. These devices save many hundreds of thousands of lives each year. They also lower health costs by detecting diseases when they are treatable and by verifying when expensive and invasive surgeries are necessary.
But too many members of Congress treat the industry like a federal piggy bank to be raided. Remember that ObamaCare was funded, in part, with a special tax on these device technologies.
That doesn’t make much sense since profits aren’t evil—they speed innovation, investment, and medical progress.
Another front and center issue now in Washington is what are sometimes called “Right to Repair” laws. The question is whether the federal government should compel the transfer of intellectual property ostensibly for purposes of “medical device repair.”
These laws grant third-party, independent service contractors access to proprietary information in order to service medical equipment which some say would lower the costs of servicing and repairing multi-million dollar machines and equipment. Sounds good. But the legislation would force original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to hand over intellectual property, including proprietary training materials and schematics. The laws would make it easier for competitors to “copy cat” devices that are protected by patents.
If a medical device is not serviced properly, it can create serious risks for patients, physicians, technologists, and health delivery organizations. Mistakes can cause injury or death to a patient and/or the device operator. Poor quality images from improperly serviced imaging devices can lead to a missed or delayed diagnosis at worst, and unnecessary repeated imaging procedures at best.
If hospitals or physicians don’t want to purchase the machines with the service contracts that come with them, they can shop elsewhere. But requiring one manufacturer to relinquish trade secrets to a third-party servicer could be devastating to the innovation process. This would be like granting RC Cola access to Coca-Cola’s recipe.
What we have here is a classic case of the competing interests of short-term savings versus long term innovation and health care technology. Medical innovation protected by patents increases costs in the short term, but the societal benefits from health care breakthroughs pay for themselves many times over.
That’s true not just here in America, but across the globe. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), between 2000 and 2009, new therapies accounted for more than 70 percent of the increased life expectancy in 30 countries.
Why in the world would Congress or the Food and Drug Administration want to do anything to slow this down just to save a few bucks?
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