EDITORIAL: Staying home: ‘America First’ drug order could hurt federal programs

President Trump has taken many steps toward reducing prescription drug prices. Some, such as working to ease restrictions on the importation of prescription drugs by individual patients, can greatly help Rio Grande Valley residents who can seek better medicinal options across the border. Others, like imposing price caps on medicines, interfere with market operations and could reduce the supply of some drugs or slow the development of others. Either way, the attention given to an issue that threatens to drive many people into poverty, especially those on fixed incomes or who have chronic medical issues.

His most recent order, however, could counteract some of the progress that has been made.

In keeping with his overall “America First” policies, the president this month signed an executive order requiring the Food and Drug Administration to create a list of essential medicines, medical countermeasures and critical input.” Government agencies then must buy whatever is on that list from U.S. manufacturers.

The timing of such an order couldn’t be worse, as health professionals around the world are scrambling to find effective treatments and vaccines that might bring the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 180,000 people in the United States and more than 800,000 worldwide. Most of the protective equipment healthcare workers need to do their jobs are made in China and researchers in that country, Russia and other countries are reporting optimism regarding some medications they are developing to fight and even prevent the novel coronavirus.

We can’t shut the door on such developments. It’s most likely that the first effective solution will come from another country, as U.S. regulations slow the development of medications. Trump’s order does call for the reduction of some of those regulations imposed by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency, and some already have been waived specifically to help speed the process of finding a solution to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean the answer will be found here first. Regardless, we’re sure that most people fighting this viral disease don’t care where the remedy comes from; they only care if it works.

Medical, business and trade groups already have expressed opposition to the executive order.

We’ve seen enough monopolies and oligopolies to know they raise costs while lowering supplies and quality.

Trump justified his order in part by saying other countries are unreliable.

“We cannot rely on China and other nations across the globe that could one day deny us products,” he said Aug. 6 in announcing the order.

In reality, however, the reverse is true. Reliance on trade maintains pressure on nations to maintain relationships that keeps that trade flowing.

We hope this order has the desired effect of encouraging more production of drugs and other medical necessities within our borders. The greater need, however, is for officials to recognize that the negative effects of this order could outweigh any benefits, and rescind it.