There is a new paper on this topic, by Gigi Moreno, Emma van Eijndhoven, Jennifer Benner, and Jeffrey Sullivan. The upshot is to beware price controls:
Price controls for prescription drugs are once again at the forefront of policy discussions in the United States. Much of the focus has been on the potential short-term savings – in terms of lower spending – although evidence suggests price controls can dampen innovation and adversely affect long-term population health. This paper applies the Health Economics Medical Innovation Simulation, a microsimulation of older Americans, to estimate the long-term impacts of government price setting in Medicare Part D, using pricing in the Federal Veterans Health Administration program as a proxy. We find that VA-style pricing policies would save between $0.1 trillion and $0.3 trillion (US$2015) in lifetime drug spending for people born in 1949–2005. However, such savings come with social costs. After accounting for innovation spillovers, we find that price setting in Part D reduces the number of new drug introductions by as much as 25% relative to the status quo. As a result, life expectancy for the cohort born in 1991–1995 is reduced by almost 2 years relative to the status quo. Overall, we find that price controls would reduce lifetime welfare by $5.7 to $13.3 trillion (US$2015) for the US population born in 1949–2005.
I would insist that we do not have good enough models of the innovation process to really understand the price elasticity of supply. Nonetheless it is surely not zero, and under plausible assumptions the price controls are a bad idea.
We need a new rooftop chant: “Beware analyses that neglect supply elasticities,” to sweet cadences of course. They should play that on AM radio as well.
For the pointer I thank the still excellent Kevin Lewis.