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Drug Prices are High because Big Pharma Dresses Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

This week, Wendell Potter, healthcare advocate and publisher of non-profit media outlet Tarbell, called out a slew of drug industry experts for undermining efforts to lower drug prices. This includes the likes of Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, and the Partnership for Safe Medicines. All use the specter of counterfeit drugs and the opioid crisis to scare the American public away from safe personal importation via online pharmacies.

Recipients of Drug Company Donations

Who is called out?

  1. Sally Pipes, from the Pacific Research Institute, because in an op-ed opposing drug importation, Ms. Pipes obtusely connects Americans ordering drugs from Canada with the many tragic deaths in low-income countries from counterfeit drugs.
  2. The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) for peddling false information about World Health Organization studies and counterfeit drugs.
  3. The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) for using the opioid crisis as a tool to oppose importation of regular, less expensive prescription medicine.
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The Mike Enzi Foundation for Lower-Cost Imported Insulin Should Exist

Senator Mike Enzi

In my blog post about the Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices, I noted my surprise at Senator Mike Enzi’s (R-WY) comment that he knew about a foundation that helps people import lower-cost insulin from Canada. Sen. Enzi stated that a person referred to as his diabetes advisor had “found a way to work through a foundation to import insulin for a number of people at lower-cost. And I think he worked for a foundation so that it would be legal.” I had endeavored to look into it, but fortunately Jay Hancock from Kaiser Health News beat me to it and found, sadly, no such insulin import program exists. I think we can all agree that it should!

In researching the story, Jay asked me if I knew of such a program.

Nope.

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Bing is Promoting Dangerous Online Pharmacies, Says New Study

Bing is Promoting Dangerous Online Pharmacies, Says New Study

According to a new study published by the American Enterprise Institute, the search engine Bing, which is operated by Microsoft, is encouraging web searchers to click to rogue online pharmacies that are more likely to sell counterfeit drugs. As the reports shows, Bing’s action appears to purposefully thwart safe personal importation of more affordable medicines. It is one of the clearest examples of censorship resulting from “voluntary agreements” among Internet companies, “encouraged” by regulators, that will threaten the health of patients buying medicine online under the guise of protecting them. Bing has placed warnings on its organic search results of safe Canadian-based and other international online pharmacies, yet the search engine fails to do so for many rogue websites, ones proven to sell counterfeit drugs. Here’s how that happened.

Bing’s problem is its use of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) Not Recommended List (NRL). Many of the NABP’s programs involving online sales of medicines and educating the public about online pharmacies are funded by drug companies, and therefore supportive of the industry’s profit-protecting goals against importation.

Bing’s Backwards Partnership with the NABP

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Senator Grassley on medication savings: “Have you considered Mexico or online”?

Grassley asks why not buy medicine online or go to Mexico

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who introduced the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2019, may well emerge as a major champion for Americans who import medicine because the prices are too high here in the U.S.

An astounding thing happened during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices this past Tuesday. Committee Chairman Grassley asked one of the witnesses, a mother struggling with the cost of insulin for her young adult son, if she had considered importing medicine to afford it.

Think about that.

Under most circumstances, according to the FDA, it’s illegal to import medicine for personal use. And yet at a high-profile Senate committee hearing, the venerable Sen. Grassley seemed genuinely curious why Ms. Sego didn’t get lower-cost medication online from another country.

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Nocturnal Reflections on Trump’s Blurry Overtures on Drug Prices

Night owl drug prices

Forcing price transparency in drug ads, proposing international reference pricing for Medicare Part B, and even drug importation can all be found in President Trump’s lunchbox of policy ideas to take on the drug companies, who are “getting away with murder.”

Huh, am I dreaming?

Is Donald Trump really a Republican? Is former Eli Lilly President Alex Azar, now HHS Secretary, really advocating such radical ideas, such as importation, against his pharma friends? Scott Gottlieb, our free-market fanatic FDA Commissioner is crusading against high drug prices, too: winner of Patients for Affordable Drugs Price Fighting Hero Award!

Pinch me. Am I awake?

I am awake and I’m not fooled by this subtle, probably well planned out public relations defense against the progressive and populist tide, which includes Republicans and Democrats. Forget importation this week: 92% of Republican and 96% of Democratic voters support ending the ban on Medicare negotiating drug prices. Finally, the country is united!

Ending the ban on Medicare price negotiations could bring down prices for drugs in all of Medicare.

But Alex Azar’s proposal to reduce drug prices in Medicare is only for Part B, half the country, and on a small group of medications. Forcing drug companies to list prices on TV drugs ads does not bring those prices down. And the importation idea is good, but super limited, and it’s still just talk!

Jamie Love from Knowledge Ecology International’s comment on Trump’s Medicare Part B proposal is caustic yet correct in describing the Trump administration’s policy and general approach:

“If one was to design a program that appeared to address the need to curb high prices for drugs, without doing much in Trump’s first term, and promising nothing after 2025, it might look like the proposal.”

On the other hand—and this is where compromise begins to seep in and you can’t help but know it’s because Trump is no normal Republican—the former President of Eli Lilly USA, Alex Azar, is advocating for forcing price reductions on drugs in Medicare Part B and importing foreign versions of lower-cost medications for single source drugs; and working in an administration giving voice to drug price transparency. Who would have thought that possible two years ago?

Not me. Am I dreaming?

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Drug Importation Front and Center in 2019

Personal Drug Importation

In the first two weeks of January, the prospects for drug importation to help alleviate high drug prices in the U.S. are looking good. Before summarizing recent developments, I’ll just note that millions of Americans who can’t afford medicines and want to save money continue to use personal drug importation, despite the federal prohibitions. This includes physically traveling across the border to buy from Canadian or Mexican pharmacies, through international air travel, and ordering from international online pharmacies.

Last week, Lucia Mueller blogged about an important survey by the Campaign for Personal Prescription Importation in which 94% of respondents affirmed that cost is the #1 reason they rely on importation through international online pharmacies.

This week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Americans with Medicare falling through the cracks on drugs dropped from formularies, particularly when they are prescribed off-label, facing high costs and looking internationally for relief. As reported, savings are even greater when Americans buy generic versions overseas, of drugs that are still under patent domestically.

There’s a lot of buzz in Congress, states, and the White House on the issue of drug importation right now. Hopefully, current laws will be amended this year to make importation expressly permitted instead of merely tolerated.

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