Democrats' New Healthcare Plan Would Harm Hispanics' Health

Democrats' New Healthcare Plan Would Harm Hispanics' Health
Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP
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The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a plan to stabilize the Affordable Care Act later today. In theory, the bill would make it easier for people to afford insurance by expanding subsidies for enrollees.

Expanding insurance coverage is a noble goal. But unfortunately, the plan would ultimately harm patients. As written, the bill would fund the new subsidies by drawing on revenue generated by a separate plan, which would tie American drug prices to the lower prices available abroad.

This practice, called foreign reference pricing, has long kept patients in other countries from accessing new treatments. It would do much the same to American patients — particularly vulnerable groups like Hispanic Americans.

The ACA stabilization plan builds on the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which the House passed late last year. That bill would allow the federal government to cap the price of 250 medicines at 120 percent of these treatments' average price in six foreign countries. The bill would also let the government tax manufacturers on up to 95 percent of their revenues should they ignore the reference pricing mandate.

Like the ACA stabilization plan, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act would not be as helpful as lawmakers hope. Consider what similar policies have done to patients in other countries. Thanks to reference pricing, patients in France only have access to 48 percent of new medicines developed between 2011 and 2018. In the Czech Republic, patients only had access to 36 percent of those medicines. Meanwhile, American patients had access to nearly 90 percent of these new therapies.

Reference pricing would change that. Just before the House passed the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted the legislation would result in the production of up to 45 fewer new medicines in the next 20 years.

Hispanic Americans cannot afford to lose access to new treatments, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Hispanics comprise a third of the country's COVID patients, despite comprising less than 20 percent of the population. Nearly half of Hispanic adults in the United States live with conditions like diabetes and COPD, which make COVID-19 even more dangerous.

Despite lawmakers' best intentions, reference pricing will disrupt the development of drugs to treat everything from COVID-19 to chronic conditions. If Congress really wants to help patients in the Hispanic community and beyond, they'll rethink this misguided proposal.

Dr. Yanira Cruz is the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging.

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