The Reduced Costs of Prevention and the Importance of Innovation

HIV/AIDS Advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation protest in front of Congressman Scott Peters office on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 in San Diego, against Peters co-authoring legislation negatively impacting the 340B discounted drug program. (Sandy Huffaker/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

More than 15 years ago, President George W. Bush recommitted the United States to the global fight against HIV/AIDS, telling the nation that we “can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature.”

In the time since, America has led the world in developing new, cutting edge treatments for treating and preventing HIV, exporting that knowledge to the world to help combat the spread of HIV and helping those infected live full and productive lives with a chronic, but manageable, condition.

This progress is attributable to concerted public health efforts, such as those spearheaded by President Bush, to truly achieve breakthrough innovations in treatment. New medicines and treatment regimens have altered the fight against HIV – breakthroughs that are largely attributable to strong intellectual property rights and the patent system in the United States that have incentivized vast amounts of research and investment into finding a cure.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine helps to show just how effective that fight has been. The study demonstrates that HIV viral suppression rates across the United States increased from 32 percent in 1997 to 86 percent in 2015. In layman’s terms, this means that the number of people living with HIV and receiving treatment has substantially increased. The study goes further, pointing to improved and new treatments as the driving force behind this progress.

This is why intellectual property rights are so important, they allow companies to continue to take risks and innovate, producing tangible, positive outcomes.

Likewise, beyond the humanitarian imperative of combating HIV/AIDS, this progress also translates to reduced public health spending and greater savings by slowing the spread of the virus.

In fact, one study published in the journal Medical Care found that the “estimated discounted medical cost saved by avoiding an HIV infection, based on current linkage to and retention in HIV care, is $229,800” per person.

These are the real benefits of innovation. By developing new cures and treatments we are not only improving people’s lives but reducing spending. It’s as close to a perfect win-win as you can get.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the first generation of Americans that contracted HIV are aging into Medicare and the associated costs are expected to further increase Medicare spending.

While we need reforms of our Medicare system, such as restoring the competitive structure of Medicare Part D, the innovative treatments developed over the last decade are already ensuring that spending for the next generation is less and that fewer individuals are at risk of contracting HIV.

Further breakthroughs, not just in treatment but also in testing and other vital, public health services, are similarly contributing to this effort. True medical innovation is helping us to win this fight – which is why we need to protect against calls for proposals that would stymie or disincentivize innovation.

Recently, activists have looked for solutions such as permitting the government to issue what’s known as compulsory licenses, essentially stealing the patents that have helped to protect innovation.

Such proposals jeopardize the whole system of innovation that has helped us make this progress. At this critical juncture, not only in the fight against HIV but in the development of other, breakthrough cures, we must protect this system from these rash proposals.

Intellectual property protections safeguard our progress, paying dividends for the future. We need to ensure we continue protecting this innovation.