Rep. Scott Peters at the Sanford-Burnham-Prebys Medical Research Institute. Photo courtesy Peters’ office

Patient groups everywhere are applauding San Diego Rep. Scott Peters for introducing legislation that endeavors to reduce out-of-pocket drug costs without stifling life sciences innovation.

His effort has helped slow a well-intentioned but poorly designed drug-pricing bill — H.R. 3 — that was speeding through Congress as a component of the upcoming, $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. 

H.R. 3, also known as the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, would cap prescription drug prices at no more than 120% of the prices paid in six foreign nations. The governments in those nations set artificially low reimbursements for medicines.

So by importing foreign price controls, Medicare, Medicaid, and private payers could save hundreds of billions over the coming decade — or so the thinking goes.

But if the bill were to pass, we would see a drastic reduction in biomedical research and development. This would devastate those patients who suffer from diseases that don’t have effective treatments — and dramatically curtail the development of new therapies to target cancer, treat rare diseases, or help those living with neurological disorders like ALS.

The development of the COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated the United States is home to the most innovative life science community in the world. Our scientists routinely create life-changing and life-saving medicines that benefit the globe.

History and basic commonsense tell us that if the government can simply dictate what it will pay, firms will have far less revenue coming in the door and will thus have no choice but to scale back research and development. 

According to a study by the California Life Sciences Association, H.R. 3 could reduce the number of new treatments that reach the market by 88% over a decade. For millions of Americans with autoimmune diseases, including the roughly 40,000 Californians living with lupus, disincentivizing the discovery of new medicines would be a disaster.

Ironically, H.R. 3 would worsen the healthcare inequalities that Democrats are so passionate about. Autoimmune disease patients, for instance, are overwhelmingly women and minorities. Lupus is two to three times more likely to strike people of color than whites — and 90% of patients are women.

These diseases should be curable. And they will be, one day, so long as scientists have enough funding to conduct their research.

H.R. 3 isn’t the right solution for America’s patients. But that doesn’t mean Congress can’t find other ways to help people afford their medicines. Rep. Peters’ bill offers many smart ideas, like capping out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries and establishing a $50 per month out-of-pocket maximum for everyone for insulin.

Patients and their families need affordable treatments; this is something that everyone agrees on. But they also need scientists to continue researching and developing breakthrough medicines. Sacrificing future innovation to achieve some short-term financial savings is a lousy trade that will ultimately hurt patients.

I applaud Congressman Peters for pushing for a better, more balanced solution. But I still worry, as the threat of H.R. 3 looms large — and it remains a key component of the budget reconciliation bill. I hope other lawmakers join Rep. Peters in working to both preserve our life sciences ecosystem and expand access to affordable medicines. 

Elizabeth Savage is executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Southern California.

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