Drug Imports: Senate Sides With Safety

By May 8, 2007Innovation, Trade

Monday afternoon the Senate voted 49-40 for an amendment sponsored by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, that preserves the safety and competitiveness of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. The amendment requires the administration to certify the safety of any imported prescription drugs; advocates of drug importation wanted to skip that critical safeguard.

The Washington Times had a straightforward lead:

The Senate yesterday derailed a move to allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from Canada and other countries by making them meet strict U.S. standards.

The bipartisan 49-40 vote for safety certification for imported drugs saved President Bush from having to veto the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization bill, which he promised to do if it opened the door to potentially dangerous drug imports.

The AP story, meanwhile, offered the usual interpretation/analysis/dance of reporter subjectivity:

WASHINGTON – In a triumph for the pharmaceutical industry, the Senate on Monday killed a drive to allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from abroad at a significant savings over domestic prices.

How about this instead?

WASHINGTON – In a triumph for consumer health and continued pharmaceutical research that promises to save millions of lives, the Senate on Monday killed a drive to import foreign price controls by allowing consumers to buy prescription drugs from abroad.

As the late Milton Friedman wrote in 2004:

We are deeply concerned about proposed legislation to remove pharmaceutical companies’ ability to control the importation of their products. The goal of this legislation will be to reduce prices in the American market by imposing other nations’ price controls on us. If this attempt succeeds, American consumers would get the short-term windfall of lower prices, but they would end up unnecessarily suffering and living shorter lives–because promising new therapies would be delayed or not even developed. Even the threat of price controls reduces the incentive to develop new drugs.

A view that’s shared across the political spectrum, or at least it was during the 2003 debate over the Medicaid prescription drug benefit. This from the Progressive Policy Institute, the research arm of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Importing foreign price controls would deliver a severe blow to a robust pharmaceutical industry, which the U.S. dominates. Price controls would limit the financing and suppress incentives for pharmaceutical and biotech companies to be innovative. The basic problem is that public officials are likely to set prices wrong.

Supporters of foreign price controls promise to pursue the issue, over and over again, until they succeed. Funny how populists who rail against unfair foreign competition want to hand over our domestic drug pricing to foreign governments.

Seems inconsistent…and unsafe.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Mary says:

    You have been bought by the RNC right wing Zealots and the drug companies..Please stop your pretense that you care about the saftey of the drugs do you actuall believe people believe that.You are a great example of why we will have a UniversaL Health Care..45 million people in this country do not have health Insurance.

  • Pop Tart says:

    David Sirota David Sirota
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    GOP Front Group Exposes Its Own Corruption & the Right’s Fraying Coalition (20 comments )

    The National Association of Manufacturers purports to represent America’s domestic industrial manufacturers – you know, the factories that Washington’s economic policies are trying to destroy. Thus, you may expect such an organization to be constantly railing on the Establishment. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite – the organization is increasingly being exposed as a corrupt, partisan wing of the Republican apparatus whose leadership often uses NAM’s resources against the interests of the majority of NAM’s own members.

    Last year, Businessweek reported that NAM’s leader, former Michigan Republican Gov. John Engler, has been refusing to use NAM’s enormous Washington clout to pressure Congress to stop pushing forward with lobbyist-written trade policies hurting domestic manufacturers (a.k.a. NAM members). The abuse got so bad that “in a surprise revolt, smaller NAM members showed up in droves at a meeting of the group’s trade-policy committee to out-vote larger members,” first forcing the organization to endorse legislation cracking down on Chinese currency manipulation, and soon creating a whole new drive for a spin-off organization specifically to challenge NAM’s corruption.

    Now this week, we are being treated to another example of NAM publicly working against its own members. On its website, NAM broadcast a breathless, hysterical blog post cheering the Senate’s move Monday to prevent American employers and manufacturers from importing lower-priced, FDA-approved medicines from Canada. NAM rehashes the previously debunked RNC talking points about drugs from Canada supposedly being unsafe, even though the Bush administration’s own FDA officials have told Congress that it has absolutely no evidence to support such a claim. But the lying about the issue is not what’s important here – NAM’s position against drug importation stands in direct conflict with the majority of its members’ interests.

    Allowing American employers to purchase lower-priced medicines from abroad would save employers’ substantial sums on the health benefits they offer. You may recall that medicine prices are a major factor in the increase in overall health care costs – costs that are hitting employers (a.k.a. NAM members) hard. Importation would finally exert some downward pressure on those prices, potentially saving industrial manufacturers billions of dollars.

    But, as we’ve seen, NAM is not really interested in representing its members anymore – it is interested in being an arm of the Republican Party. And thus, even though NAM is not the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (the trade association for pharmaceutical companies), it is nonetheless using its clout to help PhRMA, a fellow Republican Party outfit, even though such help works to keep NAM members’ health care costs high. You may say that well, NAM has a few pharmaceutical company members of its own and thus its position against drug importation was acceptable. But remember, those pharmaceutical members are far outnumbered in NAM by other companies that would save huge amounts of money on their health care costs if Senators hadn’t cast votes against drug importation – votes that NAM’s leadership cheered.

    What’s funny is that NAM likely didn’t realize it was exposing its own corruption when it went forward with this statement against drug importation. Many purportedly “grassroots” organizations in Washington have become entirely used to ignoring their own members in order to engage in the Beltway’s pay-to-play culture of corruption. But as the Businessweek story showed, these members may, in fact, be waking up to the fact that their supposed leaders are selling them out. And if that awakening happens, it’s bad news for business as usual inside the nation’s capital.

    We can already see the tell-tale signs of the conservative coalition fraying apart, its inherent hypocrisies mutating into fault lines much like they are at NAM. It started right after the 2004 election on the most core conservative issue: taxes. Here’s The New York Times from 11/23/04:

    “Even though it will be months before President George W. Bush proposes an overhaul of the income tax laws, key Republican groups are already divided about how — or even whether — to proceed. Economic conservatives share an ideological belief in flattening income tax rates and eliminating as many tax preferences as possible. And business groups want to preserve tax breaks for research, oil drilling, health insurance, equipment leasing and scores of other purposes.Christian conservatives want to promote charitable deductions, and may want to defend tax breaks for married couples with children. ‘People are not going to give the kind of support necessary for tax reform that leaves the investor class untaxed,’ said Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Commission. ‘That is not going to be politically viable,’ he added.”

    Then in the lead up to the 2006 election it got even worse. Here’s The New York Times from 10/20/06:

    “Tax-cutters are calling evangelicals bullies. Christian conservatives say Republicans in Congress have let them down. Hawks say President Bush is bungling the war in Iraq. And many conservatives blame Representative Mark Foley’s sexual messages to teenage pages…polls show broad disaffection at the grass roots…[Economic conservative leader Dick] Armey said catering to [Christian right leader James] Dobson and his allies had led the party to abandon budget-cutting. And he said Christian conservatives could cost Republicans seats around the country.”

    And by February 2007, the feuds had spilled over onto the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal. Now, not only were religious and economic conservatives fighting, but economic conservatives started fighting with themselves in intra-faction combat. Conservative anti-tax icon and longtime Washington insider Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth penned a scathing article berating local grassroots groups for having the nerve to push for better investment in public infrastructure:

    “In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government.”

    These battles are long overdue, and they pit local grassroots groups in the heartland against the Washington insiders who purport to lead a grassroots conservative movement, but often behave as if they are deliberately waging a war on their own grassroots members. How it ultimately plays out is anyone’s guess – but it’s about time the corrupt, right-wing Beltway Establishment feel the backlash from the country it has been selling out.
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  • Rick Fiala says:

    This bill was just another Big Pharma lobbyists’ victory. What about free trade? And what makes NAM think this bill is in the interest of AMERICAN manufacturing? At least half of the big pharmaceutical companies are European-owned. And research? That’s subsidized by the National Institutes of Health and U.S. universities — in other words, by U.S. taxpayers. I find it disturbing that NAM is quoting The Washington Times, owned by the Rev. Moon, who has proclaimed himself ‘God on Earth.’ The AP got it right: this bill was a victory for Big Pharma, and no one else.

  • Ignatov says:

    I find it ironic that an organization which bears the slogan “We are millions of people who make things in America” derides the notion of “populists who rail against unfair foreign competition.” Don’t your millions of members dictate that NAM should encourage populist opinions?

  • Joe Dragon says:

    OK Carter, this is by far the most hypocritical thing you and NAM have ever said. It’s Ok for US companies to import everything on earth from poison wheat gluten to toys to medical devices but when it comes to hurting Pharma’s bottom line you whine like a little baby.

    I see though, Canadians are dropping dead by the millions as they ingest those “poison” drugs…… give me a break. How does Nam retain ANY credibility?