|Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.||
News: Weekly Archives
News for the week of 05-08-2006
Orphan, But Not Rare: Pipeline Is Full And Approvals Are Up
This article chronicles the growing number of FDA approvals for so–called "orphan diseases", or medicines used to treat diseases that afflict 200,000 or fewer Americans annually. The Pink Sheet notes that the FDA is on pace for a record number of orphan drug approvals in 2006. It credits the growth in orphan drugs over the last 20 years to advances in biotechnology combined with marketing and tax incentives for orphan drug research.
"A better understanding of molecular and genetic causes of disease has given us new tools to explore rare diseases, which are often more complex than more common diseases," [a recent PhRMA report states], but [PhRMA] gives the lion's share of the credit for upward trends in rare disease R&D and approvals to the Orphan Drug Act.
The Orphan Drug Act has, with relatively little fanfare, revolutionized the treatment of rare diseases in the U.S. and has become a model for similar legislation around the world.
Small Business Insurance Stalls in Senate
As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. In Washington D.C., no good legislation ever gets passed without first being hammered by the opposition. This is certainly the case with Senator Enzi's association health plan legislation, which would allow small employers to band together on the national level to buy health insurance for their employees outside of heavily regulated state markets. Democrats paint the legislation as enabling a race to the bottom where small businesses would offer worse–than–nothing coverage to their employees.
This argument is pernicious for many reasons. First, many small employers can't afford any insurance today, pricing their employees out of the market entirely. Regulations that keep insurance too expensive for these small companies don't help anyone. Second, federal employees (including Washington legislators) are already exempt from state mandates, so it is disingenous for legislators to say that there aren't affordable, effective plans without state mandates. Finally, in a competitive national market, health associations for small businesses would use their new market leverage to compete for labor with larger employers (who are also exempt from state mandates). Health associations would have every incentive to offer plans that would attract the most number of employees, not engage in a self-defeating "race to the bottom."
The bottom line is that the Democrats' opposition is more about election year politics than real insurance concerns. Politics as usual in Washington, perhaps, but dispiriting nonetheless.
Under the proposal endorsed by President Bush, businesses could buy insurance through regional or national trade associations. The insurance would be free of many state mandates. That could make it a cheaper alternative for businesses and workers wanting to buy more scaled–back coverage.
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