Here we go again. Coronavirus subvariants are swirling, setting off fresh waves of infection around the nation, and indeed around the world. We need to get serious that we’re still in a public health crisis affecting the country and undermining our medical supply chain.
Congress and the administration have a duty to prepare for the long haul and make changes to increase domestic production of our medical supply chain. The United States remains woefully unprepared to respond to supply chain shocks that rattled the country in the early days of COVID-19 and continue to leave patients vulnerable.
Fundamentally, the U.S. is reliant on foreign manufacturing for our pharmaceuticals and biologics. This burden is passed along to patients, who experience shortages of commonplace medicines and supplies, from aspirin and pipettes to generic injectables. Today, the Food and Drug Administration still reports shortages of more than 120 drugs in the U.S., triple pre-pandemic levels. Last summer, we only had 46 drugs in shortage. This is a worsening problem. Globally, more than 80% of our acetaminophen, our statins, our needles and syringes, and our API comes from one of two countries. In short, we need more U.S. and ally production.
While the need is clear, there is no panacea to fix our supply chain woes. To achieve a resilient, dependable supply chain, private leaders and public policymakers need to make multifaceted policy changes. This means encouraging manufacturing operations within U.S. borders and exploring opportunities within federal agencies to recognize and promote U.S.-made pharmaceutical products and supplies. We need to see policy changes, and we need to see funding for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile and to support advanced manufacturing through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The Biden administration’s Made in America executive orders are one sign of progress, as is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’s proposal to increase payments for hospitals that purchase an American-made N95 mask. But more must be done.
It's more important than ever to work across the aisle to support policy that spurs manufacturing in the U.S. and U.S. allies. Earlier this year, Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Reps. Angie Craig (D-MN) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) introduced the American Made Pharmaceuticals Act. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will secure our supply chain and catalyze American manufacturing jobs by providing a variety of tools that allow for the preference of generics, biosimilars, and critical medicines made here. One of those tools is a meaningful step to secure and cure our medical supply chain — allowing Medicare to recognize and reward high-quality products made in America and in allied countries.
Our cross-industry coalition invites Congress to empower Medicare and Medicaid to reward American-made products to prevent future drug shortages and ensure patient access to life-saving therapies. For instance, the House of Representatives’s Healthy Futures Task Force has been holding a series of meetings on legislation that seeks to address drug shortages and rising drug costs.
Executive action and the bipartisan approach from congressional leaders provide a glimmer of hope that this can be the year to stand up meaningful policy reforms and necessary resources for those who are already doing Herculean work to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s go one step further and end the next one before it even starts.
David T. Sanders is executive director of Securing America’s Medicine and Supply, a multi-industry coalition of companies with the mission of strengthening the security of the medical supply chain in the U.S.