Over twenty years ago, when I was the press secretary for then-MP Bernie Sanders, I took a bus with him and a group of old people looking for low-cost prescription drugs. prices in Canadian pharmacies. The trips were part of our attempt to projector the pharmaceutical industry charging American consumers the highest prices in the world for drugs – and soon after, another candidate I worked for, Brian Schweitzer, started make similar bus journeys. It became a national big titles crusade.
Sanders effort was wildly successful against all odds – until it was bypassed by Bill Clinton. Despite well-funded opposition from the pharmaceutical lobby, the Vermont lawmaker’s campaign has helped past legislation through the Republican Congress that would have allowed Americans to import low-cost prescription drugs from other industrialized countries – just like Europe made it safe help lower the prices.
However, Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala with the Support of the president – ended up doing a huge service to the pharmaceutical companies by veto the import program, choosing not to implement it in the final weeks of the Clinton presidency. Shalala did so by repeating the brazenly dishonest safety argument of the drug companies, which alleges that even though the drug companies themselves regularly import drugs – and even though other countries have implemented import programs parallel safe – importation would endanger US consumers. She also claimed that it would not save money.
This episode was a warning about the power of the pharmaceutical lobby and drugmakers to use massive campaign contributions and armies of lobbyists to rig laws and rip off consumers.
This industry, which so often touts the virtues of free trade, has used its political influence to root a contradiction in our trade laws. Today, pharmaceutical companies are allowed to manufacture drugs abroad then import them for sale at inflated prices in the United States – all while these trade laws prohibit American consumers, wholesalers, and pharmacists from engaging in the same cross-border importation that could lower prices.
But two decades later, as hugely profitable drugmakers continue to mercilessly increase drug prices – there may finally be good news: after Sanders taken back bus rides during his 2020 presidential campaign, Big Pharma is once again on the verge of losing that same battle. And now the Biden administration is in a position to deliver a big win to start saving consumers billions of dollars.
Here’s the kicker: This particular victory would satisfy President Joe Biden’s obsession with bipartisanship, because a reactionary Republican ally of Trump just happens to be leading the latest iteration of the Import Crusade.
That’s right, Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis – a potential 2024 presidential candidate – signed a 2019 law making his state one of the six create a program to facilitate the importation of drugs from Canada, where prescription drugs are available on average at about half the american price. The legislation requires the federal government to effectively strike down the 2001 Shalala veto and approve the state’s import plans – and now DeSantis is lobby the Biden administration “to act immediately to approve Florida’s plan that will ultimately help reduce costs to taxpayers.”
DeSantis’ decision illustrates how much the prescription drug policy has blurred in recent years.
Sanders’ original coalition was mostly democrats with a handful of free-trade Republicans. Barack Obama was one of those Democratic supporters – he voted for as a senator, and he promised to allow import as president. But then his administration echoed the talking points about safety from pharmaceutical lobbyists to justify excluding him from the Affordable Care Act, in outrage Democrats pushing it, and the administration never approved Brian Schweitzer’s request to start an import program in Montana when he was elected governor.
During Donald Trump’s day, a handful of Democrats began the term of GOP chairman by portion his party votes against a drug importation measure. President Trump later turned the dynamics upside down by endorsing – approving a rule proposed to facilitate imports of drugs from Canada. The Republican President created an ideological funhouse mirror effect in which conservatives who consistently profess their allegiance to free markets began to make a free trade argument to demand that Americans have access to drug price controls in Canada.
Indifferent to the contradiction, Trump Mini-Me governor DeSantis now defends the initiative in the same state where Shalala recently echoes the fear of donors to the pharmaceutical industry on security and scoffed at the idea – right before voters in Florida kicked her out of Congress.
Biden now has a chance to take over at least part of the problem for the Democrats. Under existing federal rules, its administration has the power to approve or deny the state’s import plans.
Biden following his campaign promise supporting importation would be an easy way to satisfy his bipartisan fetish – something he can do without passing new legislation. Polls have long shown that the idea of importing drugs is very popular among voters of all political stripes, and he enjoys the support of elected Democrats and Republicans.
Then again, drugmakers have paid Democrats more than $ 30 million since 2016, and the last election cycle saw them handing more money to Democrats than Republicans, according to The data compiled by OpenSecrets. Biden’s campaign garnered more than $ 13 million donors from the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector – and while its HHS secretary, Xavier Becerra, vote for importation while in Congress, Biden also completed his administration with officials linked to the pharmaceutical industry, which is frantically trying to prevent the administration from allowing the import.
This obstruction campaign is now in court, where the main drugmaker lobby group in Washington, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), has filed a lawsuit. trial in an attempt to prevent the federal government from authorizing importation in a preventive manner. Their case is based on the recycled claim that allowing Americans to import FDA-approved drugs from places like Canada “poses significant security risks” – an argument originally destroyed by the former Republican governor from Minnesota Tim Pawlenty, who mentionned his response to the drugmaker’s safety duck is “Where are the dead Canadians?” “
Torn between Democratic Party pharmaceutical donors and a popular bipartisan import initiative, the Biden administration has so far sent mixed signals. On the one hand, the White House sided with patients by ask the court to close the case, but on the other hand, Biden’s HHS admitted last week that it didn’t even set a timeline on whether or not to approve state initiatives to import cheap drugs.
Certainly, state import programs that restrict themselves to Canada are not a game-changer in the fight to bring down drug prices – such limitations could allow drug makers to cut supply in Canada, and the government. canadian could restrict exports. Likewise, a fully expanded import program that includes all industrialized countries with FDA-inspected facilities alone would not solve the drug price problem. To achieve this, it takes everything from patent reform to Medicare to mobilizing its wholesale purchasing power to negotiate discounts.
That said, any state import program – even a limited pilot version – would open the door to a broader import system, and that would be a big step in the right direction. The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that if implemented nationally, importing could save the federal government nearly $ 7 billion over a decade, and that does not include the additional savings it could bring to consumers.
The pharmaceutical industry recognizes the scale of the issue, as evidenced by its fierce opposition. Indeed, for two decades, pharmaceutical companies refused to compromise or negotiate on this issue. They have aggressively fought importation every step of the way because they recognize how lucrative their current scam is.
Right now, they enjoy the vast wealth generated by one of the biggest contradictions in American public policy: they get free trade rights to import drugs from manufacturing facilities around the world, while denying these same free trade rights to consumers.
In other words, they enjoy special protectionism for their own outsized profits – unless the Biden administration takes action.