ISU health care reform forum: Clark Wolf

Chelsea Davis

The institutions set in place to promote innovation, such as patents, regulations and incentives, involve winners and losers.

This is Clark Wolf‘s idea. Wolf is the director of the bioethics program at ISU. He has researched intergenerational justice, ethics and biotechnology, patent law and technological change.

“There is a perception that tweaking the rate of innovation may influence the cost of and access to health care resources,” Wolf said.

Wolf discussed the relationship between innovation and intergenerational justice.

“We have to think about our influence on the welfare of future generations,” Wolf said. “We have a set of depleted energy reserves and environmental resources. We do also pass on benefits but do these benefits compensate for the disadvantages we also impose?”

Wolf said the expected benefits from innovation exceed the present cost of the stimulus. He also said there are efforts to spur competition in order to decrease the cost of research results.

“There’s a paradoxical influence,” Wolf said. “The increased competition can increase or decrease the rate of innovation.”

Some goals of the new bill are to promote innovation, facilitate the production of cheap generic drugs to lower prices for consumers and to prevent “pay for delay” settlements.

Pay for delay settlements happen when owners of branded therapies would pay generic producers to delay making their product available.

“It’s very profitable for big biotech companies and smaller generic producers who, in fact, wouldn’t necessarily have to produce anything,” Wolf said.

Wolf clarified who the winners are and described the resulting costs as a result of this new bill.

“The winners are big and small pharmaceutical companies, but the cost is that it won’t reduce the cost of complex therapeutics,” Wolf said.

Wolf’s suggestion is that there be a political deal designed to persuade the biotech community to support the health care bill.

“The articulation and pursuit of ideals must take into account the limitations of the instutitions that will enact them,” Wolf said. “That is, we can’t talk about justice without paying attention to the background institutions such as economics, law and politics.”