How much for this pill?

America has been sold a bill of goods on the “cost” of pharmaceuticals. In a transparent effort to demonstrate public outrage on behalf of their constituents, some misguided politicians pontificate endlessly about the price of a pill. But what they never discuss is the “value.”

As a result of the increased value of new pharmaceuticals to patients and the savings they create within the health care system, overall spending on prescription drugs has risen in recent years. Doctors now use drugs as a more effective, less painful and cheaper substitute for invasive surgical procedures and prolonged medical intervention. Yet, drugs still account for just 10 cents out of every health care dollar!

A perfect example is the new drug therapy for ischemic strokes, which are responsible for 80 percent of stroke cases and occur when an artery in the brain becomes blocked or narrowed. Strokes can cause weakness or paralysis and devastating loss of speech or vision. In the past, recovery took months of costly rehabilitation in the hospital or nursing home, with the patient often unable to live independently again.

This doesn’t have to happen anymore, and often, it doesn’t.

That is because pharmaceutical companies developed a clot-busting drug called “tPA” which, when administered early during ischemic stroke, dissolves the clot, preventing further damage and disability. The cost of administering the drug is about $1,700. (Gasp!) But according to the National Institutes of Health, using tPA saves $4,400 in hospitalization and nursing home care alone. The value of the drug, both in hard and soft measures—to patient, family and system—is incalculable.

A further illustration of this point: Thomas Jefferson University Hospital found that treating heart failure patients with innovative drug regimens resulted in a 15 percent increase in medication expenses, with total spending dropping by a remarkable 28 percent. Another study showed that patients on new congestive heart failure drugs avoided nearly $9,000 in hospital costs over a three-year period.

Medication advances benefit each of us. I used to get migraines. They hurt—a lot, and I couldn’t work. Now I take Imitrex, and the migraine is gone at first twinge. A study from the American Journal of Managed Care shows that the cost of treating migraine patients fell 41 percent because of new drug therapies, not including the toll of lost wages on sufferers. I’d like to calculate the value to my children, my employer and me associated with the cost of my $12 migraine pill, but I really can’t.

Instead of fussing at pharmaceutical companies for the cost of innovative medications, we should be begging for more. But to hear some politicians tell it, this increase in medication spending is a national crisis, requiring innovation-killing government-imposed price controls and risking patient safety with the illegal importation of non-U.S.-produced foreign pharmaceuticals. They are dead wrong.

The solution to drug affordability is a combination of the new Medicare Discount Drug cards, individual-based insurance plans, vigorous insurance market competition, and targeted government premium support—but not assaulting the golden goose of treatment.

It’s time for our politicians to do what is best for us and direct their outrage at diseases, and not the treatments that cure them.

My Dad has Alzheimer’s. He’s been taking Aricept for many years, and I believe it has added at least two years to our ability to communicate. The cost? Who cares. The value? Priceless.

Kerri Houston is vice president of Frontiers of Freedom.

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