Thursday, June 30, 2005

Import Canadian Policies, Not Drugs!

Yesterday, Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh announced plans to ban bulk exports of prescription drugs to the US and possibly to restrict internet pharmacy sales by requiring more than a Canadian doctor's signature. Though bulk drug imports from Canada are technically illegal because of "dangerous overlaps" in regulation between Canadian and US authorities, some local and state governments have started Canadian purchasing programs for their employees. A number of Massachusetts communities including Springfield, Boston, Newton, Fall River, Somerville, Bellingham, and Worcester currently offer these purchasing plans to city workers and retirees.

The Globe reported the US Food & Drug Administration's reaction as the following:
Thomas McGinniss, the agency's director of pharmacy affairs, said Americans should understand that generic drugs are 50 percent less expensive in the United States than in Canada. He said that many US drug companies have launched programs to offer free and discount drugs to needy patients, and that more seniors will have access to prescription drug coverage in 2006 when the government launches its Medicare prescription drug benefit program.
According to AARP's April report, commonly used US prescription medications increased by 6% in 2004, at twice the inflation rate of 3.6%. With the current trend only expected to grow in magnitude, it is small wonder why many Americans are flocking to cheaper Canadian prescription drugs. At a savings of 20-80%, almost 2 million Americans order prescription drugs from Canada every year. This amounts to a more than $1.3 billion in annual sales for Canadian internet pharmacies, which has tripled over the last 5 years.

There are many people on both sides of this issue. One side has the pharmaceutical companies and the Bush Republicans who strongly oppose Canadian drugs; the other side has the Democrats and moderates who want to please their older constituents. The constant bickering over this issue has led many lawmakers around the real problem: US drug prices.

These is after all a re-importation of many prescription drugs that were manufactured in the US and exported to Canada in the first place. How does Canada get those drugs so much cheaper for their citizens? They negotiate with the big pharmaceutical companies to lower the price for their citizens. It has even been suggested that pressure from the pharmaceutical companies is what brought about the current restrictions on Canadian drug exports, because they did not want Americans to receive the same discount and undercut their market in the US.

So, why is the US worried about drug imports, when it is only a short-term solution at best?

In the big picture, it is only a national healthcare program that can help lower prescription drug prices. It is only in consolidating health care could the US government possibly have the muscle to negotiate a fair pricing agreement with its own pharmaceutical companies. Only with some type of national healthcare, could the government require an adequate return for the millions invested in drug research and advertising.

It is time the US Government stood up to the pharmaceutical companies and hammer out the discounts given to Canada. Being the world's largest consumer of prescription drugs and other healthcare, I doubt the drug companies will have any choice but to listen.

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