New York Times Prescription For Health Care Costs: Stop Innovating
In what either be described as a glass half empty perspective or its usual dim view about the developers of new medical therapies, the New York Times reports that spending on prescription drugs in the US declined in 2012 by about 1 percent to $325.7 billion. The paper of record goes on to state "the first time the research firm IMS Health had recorded a decrease in United States drug sales since the company began tracking such numbers in 1957." The word "but" is the biomarker of a reporter's bias.. And so goes on to complain, "But even as the United States is in the midst of what has been called a 'golden' period in spending on drugs, some are warning that the ever-expanding use of generics has masked a growing problem for the government, insurers and others who pay the bill for prescription drugs: the rising cost of complex specialty medicines that treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases." The Times notes that this "potential for higher spending on drugs comes as the nation is struggling over how to contain the cost of health care, which many experts agree is a major threat to the country's fiscal condition." So the fact that there's been a drop in expenditures on medicine is twisted into a story where a potential increase in spending on drugs will bankrupt America. Except that facts get in the way. In 1960 prescription drugs were about 10 percent of health care spending. Those days people were limited to antibiotics, insulin, tranquilizers, diuretics and some crude chemotherapy drugs for cancer. In 2012 prescription drugs were about 10 percent of health care spending for diabetes, mental illness, heart disease, hypertension, targeted cancer treatments, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, HIV, hepatitis C and a growing array of rare diseases. Does no change in what we spend on medications as a share of health care spending sound like a threat to America's fiscal condition? And that's not taking into account the fact that each generation of new drugs not only become less expensive over time (price and generic competition ), make treating illness more affordable and, by increasing life expectancy, adds economic value. When we spend more on new therapies, we live longer, healthier lives. If the NYT mindset -- new therapies are a threat to our economic health that must be contained like a virus-- had prevailed even ten years ago we'd be spending less on medications but probably more on other types of care and living shorter, less productive lives.