Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Champion policies supporting medical innovation

by Nick Rahall

Nowadays, it is easy to feel like the news is filled with partisan issues that only matter in Washington. However, many of these issues have very real consequences for people across the country — regardless of beliefs or background. President Biden’s Build Back Better plan is the latest source of controversy.

The largest plank of the president’s agenda currently being debated in Congress is the $3.5 trillion (or $1.75 trillion, depending on who you ask) reconciliation bill. Like the recently passed infrastructure bill, there is a lot of good for West Virginians, such as repairing our aging infrastructure and providing a much-needed boost to the social safety net. Those provisions will bring real positive change to our state and our country. Unfortunately, there are also some hidden pet projects that could hurt vulnerable Americans, especially our seniors.

I believe Sen. Manchin was a definite positive force in bringing the bipartisan infrastructure bill to its successful conclusion when he spoke out against the House holding it hostage in hopes that it would compel moderates to vote yes on another big spending package. Unfortunately, the reconciliation bill contains some mistakes that might have serious unintended consequences for public health and American innovation.

One of the bad ideas buried in the package is a new 95% excise tax on common prescription medicines, triggered if a drug manufacturer fails to comply with new, government-mandated price controls. The drugs impacted include vital prescriptions like long-lasting insulin and blood pressure medications.

This is a lose-lose for patients. If price controls are put in place, drug manufacturers are disincentivized from investing in beneficial research and development that is crucial for developing new vaccines, treatments and cures — leading to drug scarcity and rationing. If the 95% excise tax is implemented, many seniors with fixed incomes may not be able to afford their prescriptions and could stray to unsafe black-market knockoffs. West Virginia is no stranger to the dangers of black-market prescriptions, and we cannot handle additional unnecessary burdens that could arise from these types of policy decisions.

America’s senior population is rapidly growing, and West Virginia has one of the largest populations of people over 65. Many seniors rely on numerous medications to comfortably go about their daily activities. Policy decisions should be made to support the Americans who have dedicated decades to keeping our country moving, not hurt them.

Thankfully, Democratic leaders like Sen. Manchin are not taking the reconciliation package at face value by asking important questions and pushing for compromise. But, there is more to question than just the large financial size of the package. Other Democrats have spoken out against the proposed price control plan. Rep. Scott Peters from California noted, “It’s my belief it would devastate American science, and we’re trying to make that case. I hope (forcing a vote on the drug bill) is not the plan because I’ve made my position really clear.” Sen. Manchin should consider the negative consequences of this provision, too.

Americans are already dealing with soaring rates of health care issues due to the challenges of the pandemic. They have already felt insurmountable burdens. Congress should not add to it by pushing through policies that destroy medical innovation and leave Americans picking up the pieces at the pharmacy counter. Congress should, and can, find a better solution.

Nick Rahall represented West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-2015 and is from Beckley.