Washington Didn't Sleep Here

  • by: |
  • 10/05/2012

Last night in Seattle I was honored to speak at a dinner sponsored by the Washington Policy Center (where I am an adjunct scholar). The attendees were physicians, hospitalists, representatives of the biotech industry, provider organizations, and state legislators. The topic was:  Biosimilars: The Precarious Struggle Between Cost-driven Health Care Policy and Patient-centered Care.

Why a “precarious struggle?”

Because physicians live in a world where cost concerns of patients, insurance companies and the government chaff against the freedom to practice the art and science of patient-centered care.

At the same time, legislators are constantly bombarded with public policy schemes that claim to solve the problem of providing more health care dollars at a time of historic belt cinching. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, for every complex problem there is a simple solution — and it is usually wrong.

These are the tensions that exist in the world of health care reform and biosimilar medicines that will cause problems in examination rooms and legislative chambers nationwide because they prevent people from having a clear understanding of what biosimilar drugs are and how they impact patient treatment.

A policy of forcing the use of “cheaper” medicines also has a chilling effect on medical innovation and economic investment.

Wanting something to be true (whether a “magic pill” for a state’s budgetary woes or a “risk-free” way to reduce a patient’s medical expenses) should not cloud the judgment of lawmakers or physicians. Careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of biosimilar drugs should be the guiding principle for both physicians and legislators to ensure we “first do no harm.”

Policymakers must seek out the counsel of physicians, medical and disease organization and, yes, also patient groups as they consider ways to address and implement health care reform. Biosimilars are but the most recent addition to that complicated and highly political conversation. When it comes to biosimilars, partisanship must be put aside because a legislative misstep based on a misunderstanding of the science (or the blinders of party loyalties) could have significant unintended consequences not just for budgetary reform, but for patient health and safety.

My remarks were based on a new paper, a primer on biosimilar drug policy for both policymakers and physicians. It can be found here.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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