Concern about the federal government’s budget deficit is reaching a crescendo. Assorted Cassandras warn that failing to address this problem could have dire consequences, and members of both parties seem to agree that spending must be cut. But before Congress tightens its purse strings too zealously, I’d like to remind it of the valuable and necessary work that the national budget funds. Two drug-related stories that emerged last week provide particularly good examples.
The first story is a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff report that was published last Tuesday. According to the agency’s research, the number of pay-to-delay deals between branded and generic-drug manufacturers increased more than 60% between fiscal 2009 and 2010. By keeping generic drugs off the market, these arrangements cost taxpayers $3.5 billion a year in higher drug prices, said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a press release.
Generic drugs could help ease our budgetary woes by reducing costs for taxpayer-funded health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The public shows little enthusiasm for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to turn Medicaid into a voucher system. I’d imagine that support for a solution that entailed generic drugs would be much greater.
The other story is the joint effort by FTC and FDA to remove products that make fraudulent claims about treating sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from the market. Most of these products are sold on the Internet, which can be a “toxic wasteland for consumers,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, in a conference call with reporters last Tuesday. By raising awareness about these products and providing information about the proper way to diagnose and treat STDs, the FTC–FDA effort will protect public health. I’d argue that well informed patients who seek proper treatment sooner are less likely to need federal assistance for expensive treatments later.
It’s understandable that lawmakers would want to take a hard look at federal spending, but cost cutting should not be undertaken recklessly. These efforts on the part of FTC and FDA could save the government money in the long run, besides safeguarding our well being. I’m sure that our government could find funds for valuable initiatives like these.