BIO Responds To President Clinton's State Of The Union Speech

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 27, 2000) Carl B. Feldbaum,president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), issued the following statement on Medicare reform proposals made by President Clinton in his State of the Union speech.

"BIO has always wholeheartedly supported seniors' access to biotech drugs and vaccines," Feldbaum said. "The question is how to achieve that.

"We believe the government's resources first should be allocatedwhere they will do the most good. Let's first make sure the sickest and neediest seniors get the drugs they need. One policy BIO advocates is implementing an affordable 'stop-loss' coverage for seniors with the highest drug costs. Stop-loss refers to a mechanism that protects beneficiaries from extremely high out-of-pocket drug expenses. Such coverage would ensure seniors get drugs when they're the sickest without jeopardizing their financial security.

"The Medicare reform debate should focus on which seniors havedrug coverage and which seniors need it. Coverage is the issue, not drug price discounts. Coverage, however, should be based on competition among insurers, not run by a government agency. Ensuring competition will preserve patient choice, improve quality, encourage innovation and avoid government-imposed, direct or indirect, price controls.

"The president and the Congress should ensure that anyMedicare reform encourages development of new biotech drugs. Many of these medicines are treatments for seniors. The U.S. biotech industry is the acknowledged world leader in researching and developing drugs for such age-related illnesses as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and osteoporosis.

"Medicare reform should not discourage new drug development by imposing price controls or restricting access to the most advanced medicines. Such government-imposed controls would severely reduce private investment in the biotech industry. Money from private investors, on Wall Street and Main Street, is the primary source of funding for innovative biotech drug development. In 1993-94 during the last health care debate, talk of drug price controls reduced private investment and slowed drug development.

"We are close to mapping the entire human genome. This remarkable accomplishment will significantly accelerate biotech development of new therapies that target the underlying causes of diseases.

"In his State of the Union speech, President Clinton proposed a $1billion increase in funding for early stage biomedical research. We fully support this proposal. Public investment in biomedical research, however, is only the first step in creating new medicines. Biotech companies take basic research and spend many more times what the government allocates to identify and develop effective drugs and vaccines and get them to patients. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars and as long as 10 years to develop a single biotech drug.

"We hope Congress and the president won't implement Medicarereforms that have the unintended effect of undermining both the government's investment in basic research and the biotech industry's drug development efforts."

BIO represents more than 850 companies, academic institutionsand state biotech centers in 47 states and 26 nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of health-care, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.