Amid the unprecedented onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are facing the greatest public health crisis in nearly a century. More than 150,000 Americans have died, millions have been infected, and countless others have had their lives upended by its effects. During this tumultuous period in our nation’s history, access to high quality healthcare and cutting-edge medication is critical for all patients – particularly those seeking to manage conditions like epilepsy.
Older Americans and those with chronic or debilitating illnesses, often struggle to afford their prescription medication due to fixed incomes and skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs that can lead to an increase in abandoning adherence to treatment regimens. While epilepsy itself does not make an individual more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, some, regardless of seizure control, have additional health conditions that increase their risk. This may stem from medication to control seizures that also affect their immune system such as ACTH, steroids, and immunotherapies. Regardless, no American should be forced to delay or stop using their medication due to a choice between their health and putting food on their table, especially during a global pandemic.
While I commend President Donald Trump for his willingness to address the issue of rising prescription drug costs, such as his recent executive order preventing pharmacy benefit managers and other middlemen from pocketing discounts, I am concerned about other policies being introduced. Most concerning is the recent push to put forth a Most Favored Nation (MFN) order, an update to the President’s previous International Pricing Index (IPI) policy. The MFN policy would implement price controls in the United States that are based on prices set forth by governments in foreign “reference” countries. While this may sound helpful, this misguided policy does nothing to tackle patient costs head on and could actually lead to harmful changes to quality and choice of care. Furthermore, these changes could potentially stifle innovation, leading to restricted access to new medication as well as future vaccines and cures.
It is imperative that the Trump administration and policymakers put forth commonsense proposals that increase affordability and transparency in the system, while still maintaining access, innovation, and competition. They must work hand in hand with our biopharmaceutical companies that are on the forefront of medical discovery rather than importing faulty care systems from abroad. Should policymakers choose to handcuff the industry that fosters world changing breakthroughs, dozens if not hundreds of new medical discoveries for combatting diseases such as epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s will never come to fruition. These are drugs that could be the hope of a better, more manageable life for patients living with debilitating illnesses.
Every patient has the right to a high quality life and that begins with access to high quality healthcare. During these unprecedented times, we must come together to foster American ingenuity in order to combat COVID-19 and provide relief for vulnerable patients. We must abandon partisan posturing and inflammatory rhetoric and approach issues like prescription drug prices from a sensible standpoint that increases access AND affordability. Policymakers must put patients first while also learning from past mistakes to ensure our most vulnerable populations are not collateral damage due to campaign rallying cries.
Chuck Carmen is the Executive Director of The Epilepsy Association.