-By Warner Todd Huston
If anyone wants a current example of what is looming ahead for medical science at the hands of Obamacare, the Avastin controversy is a perfect one. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to de-list the cancer drug Avastin one reason being that it is a drug too expensive for government to fund. It is scary to think that the federal government can summarily dismiss cancer drugs merely because of expense, but that is what happens when government starts counting the beans. It becomes an issue of cost instead of effectiveness.
There were other reasons that the FDA wants to dump Avastin, but cost was one of them. One of those that sat in judgment of Avastin admitted that cost was a factor in the decision to delegitimize the treatment. Natalie Compagni Portis, a member of one of the panels that the FDA convened to investigate the drug, said, “We aren’t supposed to talk about cost, but that’s another issue.” In some cases it costs as much as $88,000 annually for an Avastin breast cancer regimen, certainly not a cheap deal. But who is the government to decide that a lifesaving (or life extending or life changing) drug is too expensive for us to be allowed to use?
Imagine what this might mean for future experimental drug treatments? How many drug companies will continue pursuing new treatments when they begin to see the expense involved? How many promising drugs will be abandoned as companies become fearful that the costs of development will never be returned in sales because of government proscriptions?
Let’s put it in different terms. Remember when flat screen TVs first came out? They often cost over $20,000 a set. Certainly only the very rich could afford such a ridiculously extravagant price for a mere television, right? But as more people clamored for them companies began to experiment on production techniques and the technology began to come down in price. More people bought flat screens when prices fell to $10,000, then $5,000, then $2,000 per set. Thanks to the profit motive more and more customers could finally afford flat screen TVs until today that is practically all you can buy, often they are under $1,000.
Now, imagine where our TV technology would be if the federal government stepped in and summarily decided that $20,000 was too much for a TV and prevented companies from selling products that were initially so highly priced? TV manufacturers would have instantly ceased experimenting and manufacturing the over priced products, prices would never have come down through competition and innovation, and today few people would have the benefit of a flat screen TV.
This example may seem trivial, but the drug manufacturing industry is not that much different than the example above. The fact is drug companies are companies first and foremost. They manufacture products for sale. They aren’t charities. And if these companies see no profit at all in the effort they will not bother pursuing it. That is simply a fact of life.
That fact of life, that quashing of the entrepreneurial spirit, the destruction of the profit motive, all at the hands of government, will also quash new drugs that might bring lifesaving cures in the future. Avastin is one example of the heavy hand of government putting us all at risk.