What must be described as the most, ‘Oh, Really?” news coming from The Beltway is the headline from the Los Angeles Times to let us know that “ Drug Makers Seek To Block Deficit-Talk Demands For Discounts.”
The Pharmaceutical Industry has never really stopped spending millions of dollars to protect its ability to impose the highest drug prices in the world on U.S. citizens, prices created through back-door, secret deals with Pharma by people who are supposed to represent the public interest, namely bureaucrats, Congressmen and Senators, and sadly, in the most recent example, the President of the United States himself.
I say sadly, because then-Senator Obama was in favor of personal importation of safe, affordable brand-name prescription medicines from licensed, registered pharmacies in Tier One Countries whose oversights and standards of safety meet or exceed those of the United States.
He was even a co-sponsor of the Dorgan-Snowe bill, the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act supporting the concept of personal importation
However, it really didn’t matter since in what had become a ritual of each session of the U.S. Senate, the proposed legislation failed to receive the votes needed for passage.
So, it was with a great deal of anticipation that we looked forward to the newly elected President Obama, confident that he would take advantage of the huge Democrat majorities in the House and Senate to break the hold of Pharma upon the nation. .
But, in a classic case of Inside The Beltway hubris, the new legislation brought forth by Senators Snowe and Dorgan was troublesome although on the surface, it appeared to be the same legislation as previous attempts.
However, many supporters of personal importation, including me, believed that the proposed legislation had a fatal flaw—namely too great an emphasis upon medicines from Canada to the exclusion of those from Australia, New Zealand, et al., since at the time, sources from the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) were estimating that as much as 80 percent of the brand-name medicines being sold by Canadian mail order pharmacies were from Tier One countries other than Canada.
Supporters who questioned the intent of the bill were told by staff to like it or lump it (a direct quote). So, the enthusiasm for the legislation, not the concept, dwindled among many who would otherwise have supported the bill enthusiastically as they had done for years.
At the same time, the President immediately found that the pharmaceutical industry was just the sort of strange bedfellow that he could lie down with. In return for support of his Healthcare ‘Reform’, the President claimed that he had negotiated with PhRMA, the trade association of the pharmaceutical manufacturers, to provide relief for Seniors trapped in the Doughnut Hole by reducing the prices of their meds for the beleaguered Seniors by 50 percent. Utilizing the funny math that has become a Hallmark of his Administration, the President based his Administration’s estimates of the savings upon existing drug prices.
Of course, Pharma immediately, began raising its prices at a rate that far outstripped the Cost of Living, and, since the 50 percent deal didn’t kick in for a year, recouped much of the hoped-for and claimed savings.
The deal with Pharma was just one small part of the closed-door sessions of special interests that led to the botched opportunity to address the real problem of health care in the United States—as Jimmy McMillan noted about New York rents: “The rent is too damned high.” The same is true of the role of prescription medicines: “The cost is too damned high.”
In a touch of irony, one of the pivotal figures of the ‘Gang of Six’ during the Health Care debate was Senator Snowe, the co-author of the previous Dorgan-Snowe bills supporting Personal Importation. (In what has become an annual rite, Senator Snowe is the Co-Sponsor with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) of this Senate session’s resurrected bill seeking to allow personal importation of prescription medicines.(Publisher’s Note: Like previous versions of the proposed legislation, the language was crafted by staff. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has a House bill to allow personal importation in the hopper, and his version is much simpler, reflecting his Libertarian leanings. His bill would allow Americans to make their own decisions about where to purchase prescription medicines and to trust their common sense to exercise good judgment in discerning sources of safe, effective medicines free of what some believe is a burdensome—and possibly costly—oversight requirement in Senators Snowe’s and Stabenow’s version, which has a number of co-sponsors.)_
The web site, WhoRunsGov, noted that Senator Snowe and her staff were working to “exert her outsize influence on the healthcare bill.” Unfortunately, even with her record of support for lowering prescription drug prices, the Senator was unable to utilize that ‘outsize influence’ to get true price reduction in prescription medicine via price negotiation or personal importation. Instead, Pharma racked upon another victory.
But, contrary to the old saying about how many times opportunity knocks (once if didn’t know), President Obama and Speak John Boehner (R-OH), now have a unique opportunity to address one an issue that could provide a true stimulus to the tottering economy by putting billions of dollars in consumer pockets, reduce the deficit by billions, and do so all while providing the health benefits that access to a regimen of access to vital medicines can provide—embrace the right of Americans to act in a responsible manner exercising their own good judgment to step up their purchases of safe, affordable brand-name medicines from Tier One Countries outside the United States.
Estimates are that consumers could save as much as $80 billion over the next decade, and that the Federal Government could reap savings of $19 billion in the same period.
It is hard to explain why our elected officials have been so unable to grasp what is a win-win situation—improved health for U.S. citizens, more money for consumers to spend on necessities and, perhaps, even some non-essential items for their own enjoyment. In a recent speech on the Senate Floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted that the continuing costs of healthcare were a major contributor to the fiscal crisis the nation faces. It seems it might be a grudging admission that the real problem caused by the President’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was that the emphasis should have been on cost-containment and not coverage.
But, it’s another case of the American people being ahead of those inside The Beltway, where an atmosphere of immunity from real-life problems prevails. The fact is that for more than a decade, literally millions of people have turned to personal importation as a safe source of vital brand-name medicines. It is time for the Obama Administration and Congress to embrace the benefits personal importation can provide for even more Americans, knowing that by so doing, they will be acting in the best interests of the health and well-being of Americans, while derailing Pharma’s role as a major driver of health care costs.