Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bush Opposes Free Trade in Pharmaceuticals

Did it really come as a surprise when George W. Bush's appointed task force came out with the conclusion that the importation of prescription drugs from Canada would be costly and of questionable safety? Didn't we know that conclusion in advance? As was reported yesterday:
In a report submitted to Congress, the department outlined its concerns and objections to prescription drug imports, which amounted to $700 million last year from Canada alone, through Internet sales and personal travel.

"It would be extraordinarily difficult and costly for 'personal' importation to be implemented in a way that ensures the safety and effectiveness of the imported drugs," the HHS Task Force on Drug Importation said.

The 145-page report, unveiled in Washington by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, cited significant risks from importing drugs and long-term damage to the leadership role the U.S. drug industry plays in developing new medicines. Although Carmona said he could not point to specific instances of people dying from imported drugs, he said there is a "great, great potential of harm" from people buying imported drugs.

This was what we might have called in the recent election a Bush "flip-flop". As the article reports:
Only two months ago President Bush, in the heat of the election campaign, left open the possibility of supporting drug importation. "Now, it may very well be here in December you'll hear me say, I think there's a safe way to do it," Bush said during the Oct. 8 presidential debate in St. Louis.

In fact, he commented:
HORSTMAN: Mr. President, why did you block the reimportation of safer and inexpensive drugs from Canada which would have cut 40 to 60 percent off of the cost?

BUSH: I haven't yet. Just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you.

And that's why the FDA and that's why the surgeon general are looking very carefully to make sure it can be done in a safe way. I've got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you.

And what my worry is is that, you know, it looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a third world.

And we've just got to make sure, before somebody thinks they're buying a product, that it works. And that's why we're doing what we're doing.

Now, it may very well be here in December you'll hear me say, I think there's a safe way to do it.

And what has John Kerry been saying about drug imports? As was reported in Medical News Today:
John Kerry says that if he wins the US presidential elections he will allow drug imports from Canada. John Kerry had opposed the Medicare bill signed last year. He said "We can do a better job of making prescription drugs affordable for all the seniors in this country."

At present, Americans are not allowed to buy drugs from abroad, even so, millions of them do, most of them are law-abiding seniors who just cannot afford US drug prices. The USA has the world’s highest prescription drug prices – many seniors are faced with the choice of either eating and not getting their prescriptions or getting their drugs and going without certain foods.

Of course THAT is just common sense. Not really liberal or conservative, just practical!

And do American support drug importation from Canada! You bet they do. As has been reported:
More than 80% of Americans believe US citizens should be able to purchase drugs from outside the US, according to a new study by NOP World Health. Canada is the only country, however, which the majority of Americans (60%) view as a safe source of prescription products.

And has Congress reflected the wide-support by Americans for importation of drugs from Canada! Of course. The final Medicare reform agreement, adopted last year,
The final Medicare reform agreement, which allows imports from Canada only, requires that the department certify the safety of reimportation, again all but assuring that the practice will remain illegal.

Well would it actually be safe and cost-effective? Listen to what a Pfizer official had to say:
Rost added, "We have to speak out for the people who can't afford drugs, in favor of free trade and against a closed market." Rost said that he decided to make the comments after he posted a review on last month about the book "The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It," written by former New England Journal of Medicine editor in chief Marcia Angell.

And why then should the Bush Administration be so opposed to importation of drugs from Canada? Isn't that where they are getting doses of flu vaccine? Also from Germany?

Could it be about campaign contributions? Or is that too cynical? CAN we even be too cynical about this Presidency. Every day delivers more surprises!

As was originally reported in the Washington Post on June 19, 2002, and later re-reported on Common
Pharmaceutical companies are among 21 donors paying $250,000 each for red-carpet treatment at tonight's GOP fundraising gala starring President Bush, two days after Republicans unveiled a prescription drug plan the industry is backing, according to GOP officials.

Republican officials declined to disclose the donors to the event at the Mayflower Hotel, which is expected to net as much as $30 million for the party. But people familiar with the dinner said drug companies, as well as financial service firms, are among the biggest contributors. Both industries are lobbying aggressively to fend off new, costly regulations in the waning days of this congressional session.

Drug companies, in particular, have made a rich investment in tonight's event. Robert Ingram, GlaxoSmithKline PLC's chief operating officer, is the chief corporate fundraiser for the gala; his company gave at least $250,000. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group funded by the drug companies, kicked in $250,000, too. PhRMA, as it is best known inside the Beltway, is also helping underwrite a television ad campaign touting the GOP's prescription drug plan.

Pfizer Inc. contributed at least $100,000 to the event, enough to earn the company the status of a "vice chairman" for the dinner. Eli Lilly and Co., Bayer AG and Merck & Co. each paid up to $50,000 to "sponsor" a table. Republican officials said other drug companies donated money as part of the fundraising extravaganza

And can importation save significant amounts of money in practice? Let's take a look at the experience of several cities in the northeast of this nation:

Of the four cities prepared to implement programs this year, each expects substantial savings. Springfield has saved roughly $1 million to date with projected annual savings of approximately $4 million annually. Boston expects to save a minimum $1 million the first year and approximately $1.5 million per year thereafter. Burlington expects to save approximately $146 thousand annually which would be about a 30 percent savings of its overall drug costs. Worcester estimated savings at $1 million of the current $16 million annually being spent on these drugs.

Concerns raised by the mayors were drug safety and quality, Canadian drug availability, and the legal issues associated with importing drugs from Canada. Quality and safety issue is but a "red herring," stated Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle. "The real safety issue is people not taking the drugs that they need because of prohibitive costs," he continued.

Quality in Canada is believed to be at or above that of the U.S. in most cases and they are each dealing with verified organizations according to the mayors. An information portal between the U.S. and Canadian pharmacy databases is also currently being developed to minimize the danger of drug interactions.

So once again, this President takes action to help out the wealthy, the strong and the influential in this country. The poverty-stricken patient that must decide about whether or not to buy medications or eat, is not a concern of this President. Oh John Kerry...we really need you in the White House. What about 2008?



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