Reader Reaction: New Drugs Keep People Alive, Serve Public Health Interests

by Eve Bukowski, Vice-President of State and Governmental Affairs for California Life Sciences Association (CLSA). The group represents pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead and Abbvie. Bukowski is also a "cancer fighter," a mom of 2 and a wife.

A recent article in CALMatters (“California Searches for Prescription to Treat Rising Drug Costs,” April 10) suggested that perhaps the state simply could not afford to treat poor patients who need life-saving medicines to treat their serious or even life-threatening illness. 

This cold-blooded economic analysis is wrong on both a human and economic level. 

This fiscal analysis is short-sighted and incomplete. It ignores the fact that new medicines (and medicine adherence) save untold thousands of dollars on hospital stays, surgeries and other costly medical procedures.  Studies indicate that every dollar spent on innovative medicines reduces overall healthcare spending by $7.20 and that Medicare prescription drug coverage has reduced hospitalization rates by 8%, saving $1.5 billion annually.

Even worse, the article minimizes or even disregards the importance of new medicines to patients and their families – real people. It was particularly troubling and disturbing to read that “Health consumer advocates and economists argue that paying a lot for some drugs that only treat a limited population may not serve larger public health interests, or be the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

Tell the parents of a young child suffering from cystic fibrosis or another rare disease that a miracle medicine to treat their baby isn’t “the best use of taxpayer dollars.” Tell my husband and two children that the miracle medicines that have kept me, a late stage colon-cancer fighter, alive for over eight years don’t serve the “larger public health interests.” Tell my doctors, my amazing doctors, that they shouldn’t have helped me fight this fight. 

The arguments made in this article were the same we heard around the introduction of advanced new drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. “ Experts” then, too, said we simply could not afford these new medicines to treat people who otherwise faced death – in 1990 HIV/AIDS was the 7th-leading cause of death in the U.S. These “expensive” medicines went on to prevent over 860,000 premature deaths, and by 2010 reduced the HIV/AIDS death rate by 85% and dropped the condition to the 23rd leading cause of death in the country. One study estimated the net economic benefit of these treatments at $615 billion. How’s that for the “larger public health interest”! 

The fact is, by keeping people alive -- with their families, able to work, out of the hospital -- these medicines do serve the broader public health interests, and are an essential part of a society that puts the interests of patients, not bean counters, at the heart of all healthcare decisions.