The petulant man-child occupying the White House is proposing to impose a 25 percent tariff on Chinese products and ingredients, according to a report in the New York Times on Friday.
Some of the products and ingredients are essential to health care in the U.S. such as pacemakers, artificial joints, defibrillators, dental fillings, birth-control pills and vaccines.
In addition, dozens of drugs and medical devices are also among products targeted for the tariff. Some of them are in short supply, and dangerously so. They are epinephrine, which treats allergic reactions, and others like insulin, whose price rising has led to public outrage.
This proposed tariff has unsettled the medical device and supply industries, since a growing number of products and their components are manufactured in China.
The manufacturing of medical equipment has shifted from throwaway surgical gloves to more complicated products like MRI scanners.
An International Trade Commission in January, the Times reported, said the fastest growth in China’s medical device industry has been in sales of orthopedic devices, plates, and screws, made mostly of titanium and used for surgery and sports medicine.
One analyst, the Times continued, estimated that 12 percent of medical devices imported to the US come from China, which amounts to $3 billion a year.
A report this week by RBC Capital Markets, the article mentioned, estimated that if the tariffs took effect, this could cost the medical device industry up to $1.5 billion each year. Some of these higher costs would result in higher prices for those devices, and would affect baby boomers, who are the biggest recipients of hip and knee replacements.
This no doubt would be a boon to the medical travel industry, from the US to countries not imposing tariffs on Chinese products, or not.
Greg Crist, spokesperson for AdvaMed, the device members trade group, said its members were “disappointed because this action threatens to affect the health and well-being of American patients and those around the world, the Times article added.
While it is unclear if the tariffs would be enacted, companies have until May to lobby the administration for changes. But the man-child ratcheted up the pressure by threatening to levy tariffs on an additional $100 billion in imports.
However, analysts said that it was unclear if the tariffs would have an effect on the drug industry, even though China is a leading exporter of raw pharmaceutical ingredients, according to the article.
“We don’t see much impact,” said Umer Raffat, a pharmaceutical industry analyst for Evercore ISI on Tuesday to investors.
This is so because many generic drugs that contain Chinese ingredients are manufactured in places like India and would not be subject to the tariffs.
Yet, one trade group has sounded the alarm, the article indicated. They said that the tariffs could exacerbate the issue of health care costs as the administration is pledging to lower drug prices.
Lastly, there are two drugs on the list of 1,300 Chines exports: epinephrine and lidocaine, which are in short supply in their injectable form.
“Things are so bad right now with the injectables, we don’t need anything else to pile on, to possibly make things worse,” said Erin R. Fox, a drug-shortage expert at the University of Utah.
She also said that the tariffs could exacerbate the shortfalls of generic injectable drugs, the decades-old products that are the mainstay of hospitals and have long been in short supply due to manufacturing problems and disruptions in supply.
For some widely used products, it is unclear, according to the article, how American consumers would be affected. Insulin is one example; however, all three companies that sell insulin in the US, Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk said they did not import insulin from China.
Whatever happens with the tariffs, the effect they would have on health care here and around the world is uncertain. However, it would be prudent for those in the health care industry, the medical travel industry, and the workers’ comp industry to be aware and act accordingly to provide their patients with the drugs and devices they need.