Last weekend, Jay Hancock of Kaiser Health News wrote an article entitled “Everyone Says We Must Control Exorbitant Drug Prices. So, Why Don’t We?” I’ve been thinking about it all week, as it ubiquitously made the rounds among our community of activists, journalists, policy wonks, etc.—many passionate people that focus on drug pricing and viable solutions.
Mr. Hancock’s answer was most cogently provided by writing that momentum has slowed on drug prices: “amid rancorous debates over replacing Obamacare (…) stalled by roadblocks erected via lobbying and industry cash.” Yesterday, with the threat of Obamacare’s demise alleviated, it’s worth noting, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-DE) called out President Trump’s inaction on drug prices and for flouting his campaign promises. I suspect there will be more hearings, and talk, and talk, and condemnation, more talk, and exasperation with Big Pharma, mostly from Democrats but also from Republicans.
While pharmaceutical company lobbying initiatives loom over Congress’ every move preventing legislation and regulatory reforms to actually help Americans, patients are forced to ration and tens of millions skip taking critical meds due to cost. Mr. Hancock gives a rundown of the policies on the table to tackle high drug prices: drug importation, transparency, Medicare drug price negotiations, improved generic availability and competition.
Among those policies, I’ve noticed that importation has a special place in the heart (?) of the pharmaceutical industry and, therefore, is subject to special tactics to keep Americans from accessing safe, affordable medication available abroad. The reason is that Americans are not waiting for the law to change: about 8% of Americans (about 19 million people) say they have already imported lower cost medications.
Drug companies need to make importation seem inherently dangerous; failing to do so will mean Americans will eventually be permitted to do what is now technically prohibited. Widespread knowledge of the safety and effectiveness for what are oftentimes the very same drugs as sold locally—for a fraction of the price—is not something they’d like to highlight. On a more tactical, everyday basis, Pharma knows that if Americans aren’t paying U.S. pharmacy prices, their bottom line suffers: and Big Pharmacy joins them. A Zogby poll shows that the law deters millions from buying medications internationally, but fear of counterfeits and poor-quality drugs play a large part as well. That fear is mainly fueled by Pharma.
Pharmaceutical companies create groups, such as Partnership for Safe Medicines, which focuses mostly on the issue of importation and the Internet. There is a whole ecosystem of such groups, which include Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Don’t get me wrong: the fear of bad drugs is well founded. There are tens of thousands of rogue online pharmacies, but Pharma is clearly spending millions of dollars so that the media will paint all online purchases of affordable imported medication as dangerous. The facts prove otherwise.
There is no Alliance Against Medicare Drug Price Negotiation, Project to Protect Pay-For-Delay, or Pharma Friends Against Transparency in Drug Pricing. At least…not yet?! I hope I didn’t give them any ideas!
Here’s my bottom line:
Unfortunately, Americans can’t wake up in the morning and have Medicare negotiate drug prices, speed up generic competition, or force Pharma to be transparent on pricing, but they can buy lower-cost medication online and import it if it’s the only way to afford the medications they need.
Congress, patients don’t have the time or money to wait.Tagged with: jay hancock, Kaiser