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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LPR

REPOST: Opinion: Medicare needs modernized

Written by North Carolina State Senator Todd Johnson; Originally published by

Senator Sanders has turned his ire toward medicines for weight loss and diabetes, notably Wegovy and Ozempic.  Given his instinctive belief that big government always knows best, it is all but certain that he will eventually call for government interference in drug pricing for all the remarkable new weight loss treatment that could revolutionize health in America.  It is an easy way to gain attention but does nothing to solve the real tragedy of Americans who need care but cannot afford it.  Asking the government to set the price of medicine never works.  Whenever you price control something you get less of it.  All single payer government health schemes are built on rationing.

Senator Sanders critique of weight loss drugs follows the same playbook he has used to attack other lifechanging medicines.  If a drug is very useful, he says it can’t be afforded. He asked for the government to take over the intellectual property rights for Sovaldi for Hepatitis C in 2015. Not only did Hepatitis C drugs not bankrupt the health system, prices and discounts for Hepatitis C medicines declined, because there was a competitive market for new drugs to enter. If Senator Sanders had destroyed that market by seizing the intellectual property of the first drug there would not be multiple approved medicines for the disease today. He conveniently ignores the fact that few pay the list price of drugs.   Insurers, using their millions of members as leverage, use the free market to negotiate substantial discounts, reducing the cost of weight loss and diabetes medicines by more than half.  In addition, biopharmaceutical manufacturers often offer coupons to help people without insurance coverage.

Sanders also fails to acknowledge the vast sums the government is already spending to treat people with obesity in the form of hospital and doctor visits and lost days from work due to the many health problems that are associated with obesity including cardiovascular disease and cancer.   In fact, obesity costs the U.S. healthcare system $147 billion a year.  Even a well-known Obama healthcare advisor and biopharma industry critic argues that the GLP-1 medicines for obesity are cost effective.  Sanders fails to go after the system that allows these billions of dollars of cost related to obesity to accrue year after year.  The real tragedy is that just a fraction of the dollars spent on treating the poor health outcomes from obesity could be spent on prevention making people healthier and more productive.

Sanders argues that the government should set prices and tell the providers to take it or leave it.  Sadly, providers often choose to “leave it,” because they cannot operate with the low reimbursement rates that discourage investment in our healthcare system and in the discovery of new drugs.  The result of Sanders socialist policies would be fewer doctors, fewer new medicines, and long wait times for care.  These are precisely the trends we see in socialist leaning countries around the world.

Only vigorous market forces can bring about innovation and new cures.  Government single payer systems are stagnant and they must ration healthcare to exist.  In Senator Sanders’ socialist leaning world, government makes the decisions that should be left to you and your doctor.

Ironically, federal employees have been given access through their health insurance plans to effective obesity reducing drugs.  In fact, the Federal Government requires that any health insurance plans offered to federal employees needs to provide it. This has been going on for years and the federal government which subsidizes those health plans has not gone broke as a result.  Why?  Because those Federal employee benefits are   are administered by private health insurance plans who manage the use of treatments and negotiate substantial discounts on medicines.

Yet Senator Sanders sits by while Medicare patients are denied coverage for the same obesity reducing drugs because of an antiquated provision in the Medicare law that dates back to a time when safe and effective treatments were not available.  Sanders and his colleagues on the Senate HELP Committee could better spend their time correcting that flaw in Medicare and thus enable millions of seniors to afford obesity reducing drugs which could lengthen their lives.  Such a step would also put pressure on the health insurance market that serves younger workers to follow suit.

Senator Sanders’ real goal is not government negotiation of drug prices.  It is a government takeover of the healthcare system.   He wants to eliminate the pesky interference of the private sector which has created the greatest healthcare system in the world – a system which gives patients choice, and which respects the relationship between a patient and their doctor.   Don’t forget, America is the place where cancer survival rates are higher and desperate patients come when their socialist healthcare systems have failed them.  

Our system is not perfect.  The need for Congress to modernize Medicare and deliver for Seniors the same obesity reducing drug benefits it gives to its own employees, is one place where improvements should be made – NOW. Senator Sanders should spend his time working on that instead of trying to destroy a healthcare system that leads the world in developing and approving lifesaving medicines.


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