The recent explosion of controversy over the retail cost of epinephrine-injection pens clearly shows that the availability and cost of medicines remain incendiary issues in the U.S. Too often, scapegoating and demands for punitive action dominate public discussion – all the more so in an election season. And so, again in this case, we’ve heard calls for federal price controls, importation of medicines from other countries, reduced intellectual-property protections, and new regulations. But none of these actions would move us closer to a world in which all patients have access to a wide range of affordable, highly effective medicines.
There are much better ways forward.
In a column this summer, I argued for an agenda focused on reducing out-of-pocket costs to patients, elevating value as the preeminent criteria in pricing medicines, and increasing competition among medicines. I promised to share some ideas along these lines, and will do so in several installments.
The ideas I’m suggesting have three common denominators. First, they put the needs of patients first, and those certainly include affordability but also include better health outcomes. Second, they proceed from the real-world experience of patients, insurers, employers, and drug manufacturers navigating the virtually unfathomable complexities of drug development and of America’s health-care system. And third, they focus on removing obstacles to a well-functioning marketplace for medicines rather than adding more such obstacles.
And why is it, I’ve wondered, that the third criterion is so unusual in political discussions on the cost of medicines or, for that matter, so many other topics? Rather than blaming ideology, I’ve decided that it probably has more to do with the promise of "action" that naturally pervades electoral politics. Who builds a campaign or a policy platform around getting out of the way and letting constituents address problems in the marketplace? Yet on many occasions – and certainly with regard to affordable health care – that would be the best approach exactly.
Going even further, I believe that our power to change things in the marketplace – and in the research clinic for that matter – is greater than we might realize. We work and live in a heavily regulated society, but individuals, companies, and even government agencies that want to drive change and point to a better way have considerable power to do so.
John Lechleiter serves as chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. This column originally appeared on the Forbes website.