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Limpid Lipids

2017-03-28 | Peter Pitts
Nothing is more illustrative of the price/value discussion than PCSK9s. Just what are they worth? What's innovation worth?

At a recent Galen Institute forum, cardiologists, patient organizations, and policy wonks sat down to discuss the relative merits of PCSK9s both as a therapeutic choice and a reimbursement imbroglio. Issues ranged from physicians’ frustration with pre-authorization, to best practice beyond familial hyperlipidemia. What value should be assigned to PCSK9s for patients who are non-compliant with their statin therapy? Providers want to have the freedom to deliver the best clinical outcomes. How can payers become a more symbiotic part of that therapeutic journey?

Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner commented, "As I travel the country, I have become increasingly concerned as doctors say that their hands are being tied by bureaucrats who second-guess their clinical decisions. At this critical moment in the health care debate, I believe policymakers need to hear the physician point of view." She noted that, typically, physicians are so busy caring for patients that they do not have much opportunity to take part in discussions of health care policy. "For this reason, we decided to bring this group together to begin a national conversation about this crisis in the medical profession, and ensure that policymakers and patients alike understand the barriers doctors are facing as they attempt to deliver the best care possible to their patients."

According to Dr. Seth Baum, fellow of the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the National Lipid Association, and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology, "Patients should not have to wonder who is deciding which medicines they take -- their doctor, or their insurer … In my case, I am forced to complete intricate, 17-page documents so that insurers will allow my patients access to lifesaving new cholesterol medications, only to see them turned down, repeatedly."

Baum also pointed to "fail first" policies, which require doctors to prescribe older, cheaper medicines for patients until those patients "fail" on those drugs, before being allowed to prescribe breakthrough treatments that would be more effective. "These decisions are best made between doctor and patient, not by bureaucrats," he added. "Insurance should help ease health care worries, not tie doctors and patients up in red tape."

Another speaker at the conference, Dr. Hal Scherz, a pediatric urologist, said, "Third-party interference has become endemic in the U.S. health care system, and is increasingly destructive to the patient-physician relationship. A recent survey by the Physician's Foundation found that 53.9% of physicians surveyed claim that some of their decisions are compromised due to their current level of clinical autonomy. I am glad to take part in this discussion, and hope it will increase public awareness of the restrictions doctors encounter in their daily work."

Disease is the enemy. Practicing physicians know this, but their professional association -- the American Medical Association -- seems in need of some education. The AMA's new program, "truthinrx.org," is entirely silent on the actual metrics of healthcare spending and the value of pharmaceutical innovation. Ignorance is not bliss.

Medicines lower health care costs by improving patient health and warding off more serious complications, government interventions that discourage drug development will increase health care spending, not cut it.

The current inquisition of the pharmaceutical industry is meant to justify government restrictions on drug pricing. If facts still matter, free-market competition will be exonerated and upheld as the best way to contain health care spending while delivering quality care. If they don't matter, and legislators insist on imposing innovation-killing price controls, future health care savings will go up in smoke.

Healthcare innovation saves lives, saves money, promotes economic growth, and provides hope for hundreds of millions of people (both patients and care-givers) in the United States and around the world. It deserves respect -- or at least honest reportage.

Does this sound naïve? Perhaps, but as Schopenhauer said, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

How’s that for a tweet?