Health Costs to Double
Is there a free-market solution?
A new federal study says that heath care costs will double in the next nine years and prescription-drug costs will almost triple. This doesn't have to happen. A study just published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 1998; 280: 1604-1609) compared saw palmetto extract with the prescription drug Proscar. Saw palmetto was shown to be as effective as Proscar in providing relief from the symptoms of benign prostate enlargement. The authors of the study noted that, while Proscar costs about $66 a month, saw palmetto costs only $20 a month.
In a free market, competitive pressures relentlessly drive prices down, as can be seen in the case of saw palmetto, whose prices plummeted in 1998. The prescription drug business, however, is not an open market. The Food and Drug Administration provides a virtual monopoly to a select group of drug companies that have the political connections to push new drugs through an unpredictable, costly maze of regulations. Smaller companies cannot afford to compete and, as a result, prices for FDA-protected drugs increase each year at rates that greatly exceed the inflation index.
When lower-priced drugs are offered to consumers from other countries, the FDA takes extraordinary steps to deny these products to Americans under the guise of "consumer protection." While the FDA admits that none of those who have ordered a medication from another country has experienced a severe adverse reaction, it is an established fact that drugs the agency approves as being safe kill more than 125,000 Americans a year (JAMA, April 15, 1998).
Drug companies are now promoting expensive drugs that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 26%. A review of the medical literature, however, shows that low-dose aspirin is at least as effective as these expensive prescription drugs. Up until just a few months ago, the FDA said it was illegal to promote low-dose aspirin for the prevention of heart attack. The FDA's 15-year delay in approving aspirin turned into a financial bonanza for the pharmaceutical companies, but consumers paid dearly as the proliferation of cardiovascular drug prices spiraled out of control.
Heart disease, stroke and other vascular disorders cause 44% of all deaths that occur in the United States. A 1997 estimate put the economic cost of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease at a staggering $259 billion (Clinical Therapeutics 1998, 20 Suppl B pB2-17). One study in a conservative medical journal found that, if alternative medications were made available to cardiovascular disease patients, the annual cost savings would be $3 billion to $4 billion per year (Annals of Internal Medicine Sept. 15, 1996, 502-506). If the U.S. were liberated from the FDA's bureaucratic stranglehold, drug prices would inevitably drop to a fraction of their current levels.
Just look at the drug Proscar that costs $66.00 a month, whereas an herb (saw palmetto) that has been proven to work just as well for as little as $8.10 a month. That's eight times less expensive that the FDA-approved drug!
FDA over-regulation is a direct cause of inflationary drug prices, yet the government blames everyone but itself for this artificial problem. The American public already has rebelled by turning to low-cost herbal supplements in place of expensive FDA-approved drugs.
The front page of The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 16, 1998) featured an article called "Hard to Swallow... America's Soaring Drug Prices," that revealed how drug spending has soared over the last five years to a point where it is becoming the dominant cost in health care. An interesting quote from the article underscored one of the reasons drug companies get by with charging high prices for new drugs: "Americans are increasingly demanding the latest brand-name drugs in a ferocious attempt to preserve their health and their youth."
Freeing Americans from the death grip of the FDA/drug cartel will go a long way towards achieving better health and longer life.