Drug Pricing Proposals Would Import Foreign 'Death Panels'

Drug Pricing Proposals Would Import Foreign 'Death Panels'
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As Elizabeth Warren found out when she proposed her $52 trillion health care plan, Americans are concerned with the cost of the free stuff they’re being offered from government. But not all the danger lies in the price tag. Shortages, rationing, and government death panels impose their own kinds of costs.

The left loves to pooh-pooh "death panels" as some kind of right-wing phantom, but that’s what’s happening elsewhere in the world as countries find “free” to be more expensive than believed and try to make their budget numbers work.

In the United Kingdom, the problem became so acute the government was forced to set up an entire new program just to fund health care costs for people who were likely to die soon.

The program was in response to studies that estimated more than 20,000 Brits per year were having their lives cut short because of drug rationing. Yet, a year into the program, another problem familiar to big-government critics emerged: The government seldom used the funds, which sat dormant as rationing continued.

Not many people enjoy dealing with health insurance companies, but even fewer want to deal with the federal government in such circumstances. This is compounded in the UK and other nations with socialized health care, where people spend their last months of life desperately pleading to unelected bureaucrats to pay for the medicine their doctors prescribed.

Next, check out the website www.drugshortagescanada.ca. This is an official website of the government of Canada – created in part by Canadian doctors after public unrest – that helps Canadians navigate the reality of persistent medicine shortages in their country.

"It would be good to hear something, but we are hearing deafening silence," Barry Power, a representative of the Canadian Pharmacists Association, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last month.

Meanwhile, bureaucrats in Ottawa are tightening the screws on the rationing regime. An unaccountable, heretofore unheard of office called the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board now issues life-and-death decisions about which drugs government will pay for. The office, which bears a striking resemblance to Obamacare's since-repealed Independent Payment Advisory Board – has a staff of 83 people who make healthcare spending decisions for all 37 million of Canada’s citizens. The Canadian National Firm Board has four times as many staffers, even though the Medicine Prices Review Board makes life-and-death decisions for Canadians every day.

France has a similar problem with persistent, acute drug shortages, and French media have described the problem as originating from supply chain disruptions. But such disruptions usually send market signals – prices are high; supplies are short – that create incentives for pharmaceutical companies to step up production and distribution efforts. But since France has outlawed supply and demand for medicine, there has been no improvement, and the French are realizing they have to get used to having life-saving drugs only some of the time.

Recent proposals from Nancy Pelosi and others (even from within the Trump Administration) to set U.S. prices based on European single-payer price control rates would bring those problems into our country.

Americans don’t always react well to shortages – as any Popeye’s Chicken franchisee can attest, and this will only get worse when life hangs in the balance.

Generally, markets respond nimbly to fluctuations in supply and demand and the resulting price spikes. Businesses that can’t respond don’t survive, and businesses that do respond get better at quality, price, and service to preserve or gain market share.

In a single-payer system, or even a system where supply-and-demand is undermined by price controls, all that ends. Patients and their doctors should make decisions about their health care, not bureaucrats with little accountability to those patients and even less to the general public.

Drug price controls are no free lunch (and they're definitely not a free spicy chicken sandwich). They simply shift the price to waiting lists, shortages, decreased quality, additional paperwork, endless, futile battles with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and more. It's a bad deal … one Americans should not go for.

Brian McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. He is a former senior writer for the Heritage Foundation and former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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