The Right Prescription

Preventive Care, Obamacare Style

Preventing cancer patients from getting the new treatments they need.

By 8.24.11

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While President Obama rests up at Martha's Vineyard, people whose lives should be saved by new and existing cancer drugs are driving from hospital to hospital in search of medicines in short supply thanks in part to Obamacare's implementation.

Over the past two years shortages have developed for over 180 drugs, including cancer treatments. The shortfall is the result of stricter FDA regulation, government price controls on already discounted but complex drugs, and policies that discourage the use of new medications. Companies, facing lower prices, tighter regulation and increasing government control over what drugs will be used and when, are exiting the U.S. market and investing in product development in China and India where, sadly, it is easier and cheaper to produce next-generation medicines.

Stockpiling will only add to people's suffering by replacing market reforms with government micromanagement. Government planners require months, if not years, to produce regulations, bids and supply estimates that are usually overgenerous to compensate for paltry prices. Government bungling was behind the failure of the smallpox and H1N1 vaccine program and responsible for billions of dollars in flu vaccines and antibiotics being dumped. The same forces pushing stockpiling also believe commercializing medical discoveries is evil. It's part of a larger effort to nationalize the development of medicines that under Obamacare is become institutionalized.

Indeed, the drug shortage is a product of a more troubling trend. At a time when medical research could yield breakthroughs in the treatment of obesity, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and stroke, among others, innovation has all but dried up. Most of the medicines being used today were developed 30 years ago. Most of them have generic competition. They have contributed greatly to increased wellbeing but as the return on generic drugs fall, price controls and regulation have created shortages.

Obamacare is making the commercialization of newer drugs and devices more difficult.

Though new and faster methods to determine a technology's safety and effectiveness exist, Obama's FDA still demands evidence collected with science and statistical methods developed in the 19th century. To be sure, in the last two years new medicines for AIDS, cancer, lupus and hepatitis have been developed. Yet, these products should have been available sooner if not for FDA nitpicking.

And now that they are finally approved, patients are finding it next to impossible to access several new drugs and genetic tests that would transform the quality of life and extend survival for such illnesses as lupus, prostate cancer, and organ transplantation.

Provenge, the first cancer vaccine, stalled at the FDA for years. Once approved, it faced 18 months of additional delay while the Obama administration figured out whether to pay for it. The gauntlet cancer patients face with Provenge is being extended to everyone waiting for a medical breakthrough under Obamacare. Before a medical innovation can be used or paid for, the government will now demand additional research demonstrating that a new product will be more effective and cheaper than existing technologies. Since most new products come from small start-ups with limited cash, such a requirement means life-saving innovations will not be available at all.

Similar regulations have been used to delay and deny access to cancer drugs in England, Canada and Australia. Drugs such as Avastin, Revlimid and Herceptin are barely used in Britain's cancer wards because government decided they were not valuable. The people who could not use them are dead. Those -- mostly in America -- that did are alive.

But now this de facto rationing is coming to America. Before the cancer drug shortage there was the decision that women under 50 should not get mammograms. Both Provenge and Benlysta, new treatments for prostate cancer and lupus respectively, are hard to come by because of uncertainty about reimbursement by health plans and government.

The death and suffering flowing from such delays are the result of policies promoted by those who want to use the FDA and increased government control over medicine to slash access to new technologies. In their mind, rationing of cancer drugs frees up money to expand the welfare state. The shortage of old drugs is simply one side effect of this malevolent strategy.

It would be simpler to claw back regulations and let markets work. But stockpiling is part of a larger effort to centralize the development and use of medical services. The administration has gone silent on the wonders of Obamacare even as it issues regulations and hires bureaucrats to replace free choice with government edict. But it will emerge as a campaign and social issue. In America no one should go without medicine because they can't afford it. And this shouldn't be a nation where people are denied treatments because their government makes medicine impossible to produce or obtain.

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About the Author
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My H ealth, a grass roots health care empowerment network. His is new book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear and Profit, was published last month by Kaplan.