Many are relieved that a debt ceiling and deficit reform deal has been reached in Washington, but the potential negative impacts on jobs in the biotechnology industry in New England and the millions of residents who depend on its life-saving and life-extending products remain a real threat.
It comes down to one word: Medicare. For as popular as Medicare is with seniors, cutting it is equally popular with Washington number crunchers. And by “cut it” they mean some combination of increasing costs while reducing benefits for seniors plus forcing the job-producing biopharmaceutical industry to fork over more money to the federal government when the industry is already contributing record amounts in order to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.
The forces arrayed against Medicare would also implement price controls, which will stifle development of new cures and research and snuff out the price competition which is already keeping prescription prices down.
So the question is why would Washington consider Medicare cuts when it is working just fine?
Medicare just announced that premiums for Part D, the prescription drug benefit, will be lower than last year and 44 percent below the projection made in 2003. In New England, 36,397 seniors have used the discount program to save an average of $516 annually on brand name drugs.
Given these statistics, aren’t there other government programs that deserve a lot more scrutiny before Medicare?
Yet the bean counters’ first move is to look to drastic spending cuts and changes to the Medicare and Medicare Part D with little consideration of the impact on patient care, medical innovation, and our states’ economies.
No region of this country has more at stake when it comes to cutting the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Our friends and neighbors are working in the biotech field or in industries dependent on it. Our families and coworkers are benefitting from miracle cures and therapies developed by an industry that commits an incredible amount of money to research. Our parents and grandparents in these six states with aging populations are living healthier and longer lives through access to biopharma medicines at a reasonable cost.
The New England economy has changed and is now more dependent than ever on the health care, the biopharmaceutical sector, and the innovation economy. Much of it started in Massachusetts, but it has spread throughout our five closely knit states due to the brainpower and workforce turned out by our academic institutions. We certainly can’t afford to have the federal government stunt its growth or cut its workforce through ill-advised measures.
We’ll need the New England congressional delegation to be vigilant in fighting against Medicare cuts to make sure those discounts and our biotech jobs don’t go away. The new 12-person deficit committee will meet and consider federal cuts between now and Thanksgiving, and our delegation needs to send a bipartisan and daily message to that panel to stay away from cuts and changes to the prescription program.
Just like the Florida delegation fights for orange growers or the Michigan delegation fights for the auto industry, our New England delegation needs to fight for biotech and seniors—by fighting for Medicare.
Paul Pescatello is Chairman of the New England Biotechnology Association, representing over 600 companies, associations, and academic institutions committed to public policies that promote innovation and life sciences.