- - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

So far, the COVID-19 has only killed about two dozen Americans, but the potential for a pandemic has generated panic — causing waves through the financial markets that give one 2008-style deja vu. 

And not letting a good crisis go to waste, Democrats in Congress are using the threat of the virus as an excuse to push price controls in the supplemental appropriations bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement last week saying any such bill has to include a guarantee that “vaccines are affordable and available to all that need it.”

Granted, a statement like this is better than Mr. Schumer’s more recent one where he threatened violence against the U.S. Supreme Court, but it’s still wrong.

Negotiators in Congress wanted to seal a deal on the bill last Tuesday, but Democratic stonewalling in the name of low prices for a coronavirus vaccine currently under development are holding up the agreement. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said he thought making the vaccine affordable was a “worthy goal,” while other Republicans involved said an emergency coronavirus supplemental-funding bill wasn’t the place to legislate on what’s clearly a larger, long-term matter.

Either way, both sides say the issue is unlikely to stall an accord for long.

There is certainly a lot of frustration among lawmakers who want to ameliorate widespread fear and impatience among their constituents, especially about a shortage of tests to detect the virus. But there is no vaccine yet to combat the coronavirus. 

Private-sector drug companies are currently developing one, and Republicans warn that the Democrats’ effort to push price controls could stall the production that’s already underway. 

These private drug companies, sometimes called Big Pharma, are the often-maligned group that creates all the medicines we use. Without them, the alternative is not cheap medicine; the alternative is no medicine. 

National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Anthony Fauci told reporters, “We always need a pharmaceutical partner. I can’t think of a vaccine, even one in which we’ve put substantial intellectual and resource input, that was brought to the goal line without a partnership with industry. So this is a very natural process that we’re doing right now.”

If there is no financial incentive to create medicines, these companies wouldn’t create them. They would instead focus on something with a reliable return, like developing the latest flavor of Doritos. Without price controls, Dr. Fauci argued this process doesn’t impact vaccine affordability.

“I have not seen in my experience situations in which we were involved in the development of a vaccine, particularly for low- and middle-income countries that really needed it, where the pharmaceutical companies priced it out of their reach,” Dr. Fauci said.

However, when the government institutes price controls the results include long waits, shortages, black marketeers and phony substitutes. 

This is not the only far-left proposal Democrats in Congress are pushing to be the heroes of health care. At a recent House committee hearing on surprise medical bills, Republican members and conservative advocates warned against the inevitable damage done by price-fixing — hurting patients, shutting hospitals’ doors and prompting doctors to retire early. Even Rep. Kimberly Schrier, Washington Democrat, warned that price fixing “puts hospitals at risk.”

Price controls — ostensibly there to help patients — primarily benefit insurance companies, which then get to stiff doctors and hospitals. As Obamacare premiums soared, the largest insurers in the country have enjoyed according profit. United Health Group enjoyed $10.6 billion in profits in 2017 and an earnings growth of 56 percent, for example.  

The coronavirus has exposed the risks of a hyper-connected, globalized world. But the same advanced technology that has enabled the disease to spread across the world will most likely also treat it.

• Jared Whitley has worked in the White House, the Senate, and in the defense industry.

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