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Stemming the Tide of Declining US Life Expectancy: Implications for Drug Pricing Legislation

While it is encouraging that legislators are working to lower
health care costs, it’s imperative that the means of achieving these goals also
maintains a high quality of care, access to innovative treatments, and protects
patients’ relationship with health care providers. Unfortunately, that is not
the case of Speaker Pelosi’s drug pricing package known as HR 3. 

Americans
have seen great advances in life expectancy since the middle of the last
century.  These are in part due to
innovative pharmaceuticals that help clinicians select from an armamentarium of
advanced medications to combat an increasingly complex array of diseases. Unfortunately—and
tragically—the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recently reported
a decline in life expectancy for the third straight year
,
much of which is driven by a decline in life expectancy of American men. While
the causes for this decline are complex and interlaced, one thing is certain: creating
legislative, regulatory, or private industry policies that curtail innovation
or access to advanced therapies will contribute to a continued decline in longevity
and quality of life as Americans age. 

Speaker Pelosi’s efforts to redesign the Part D prescription
drug benefit in HR 3 will undermine Medicare’s competitive marketplace, which
is essential to ensuring patient access to a wide range of medications and will
provide minimal, if any benefits to patients. In addition, the various
proposals currently being discussed would implement anti-free market government
price controls rather than allow market forces and negotiations to determine
prices.  As has been seen in many other
scenarios, government price controls do not work and generally impair innovation
and thus threaten future access to breakthrough treatments. 

A recent review of the proposed legislation by The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimates that HR 3
could lead to as many as 100 fewer drugs becoming available to Americans over
the next ten years. Furthermore, and at the heart of our concern, is CEA’s
assessment that the ultimate impact of this decrease in new medications would
be a further reduction in Americans’ average life expectancy by about four
months. Implementing policies that will result in a reduction in life
expectancy is unacceptable on its own, but when it will exacerbate the factors
already leading to declines, it is simply unconscionable.

Initiatives that limit research into new cures and treatments will
significantly damage gains made to address men’s health needs and the needs of
all Americans. In the past decade, we have seen new therapies lead to a remarkable
90 percent of men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer attain a five-year
survival rate. More research is needed to increase the survival rates of other cancers
and other complex conditions and must not be jeopardized by these proposed
policy changes.   

While HR 3 may appear to improve the government’s short-term bottom
line, it will undermine the long-term goals of restoring the American lifespan
and enhancing quality of life through the golden years. Without unobstructed access
to effective treatments and continued innovation in medications, the long-term cost
of care will inevitably outstrip short-term budget line savings.  Ultimately, these proposed changes will do
relatively little to improve access and care quality or reduce patient out of
pocket spending.

As Congress considers HR 3 and other proposals to follow, Men’s
Health Network strongly urges them to consider the likely adverse impact on our
already declining American
life span and reject proposed changes that focus on short-term line-budget
fixes and instead focus on proposals that put patient needs first.

Men’s Health Network (MHN) is the oldest and largest advocacy and educational not for profit organization with a focus on the comprehensive health and wellness of boys, men and their families. This article is part of a series dedicated to exploring effective prescription medication pricing reform proposals that also benefit patients. Read the first post of the series, “Five Key Principles to Sound Prescription Medication Pricing Reform,” to learn more about how proposed policies could impact men’s health.

Image by Thomas Breher from Pixabay



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