Top 10 Letters
Decoding Gephardt, doubting Blair, doing drugs, and more.
12:00 AM, Aug 4, 2003
Fred Barnes is wrong on this one. I'm a retired surgeon who buys expensive drugs from Canadian pharmacies. When I was in practice, I encouraged patients to buy some expensive drugs in Mexico. The R&D argument for high drug prices is partly a myth. In 1973 when tamoxifen was discovered to be useful in breast cancer, it was already in wide use as a veterinary drug at a low price. Once it was found useful for humans, the price tripled. Most new drugs are copycat versions of other companies' successes. I am in favor of research, but much pharmaceutical research has been compromised by company financial incentives. Ever heard of "orphan" drugs? They are lifesaving drugs that treat rare diseases. Drug companies show small interest in them but marginal drugs--like anti-depressants that are way over-prescribed--are sought with intensity.
I wonder if there isn't a silver lining to the importation of drugs from overseas.
Fred Barnes is right: things would get worse if we throw in the towel and allow consumers to import from Canada or wherever else. Fine, let them get worse. When we pay higher drug prices we are subsidizing healthcare research for Europe and Canada. Those countries know they can rely on us to pay the high prices necessary to create the drugs they want. They also know that that cozy relationship relies on us never having government price controls. Heck, as long as the rest of the world signs on to more socialized healthcare, the more Americans end up subsidizing cheap drugs for the Quebecois through higher costs here.
If we could suddenly purchase all our drugs from overseas, the drug companies would have to demand higher prices from those countries, or they would just have to stop shipping the drugs to those countries to protect their prices in the United States. France can't force Pfizer to sell them their goods.
A couple things could happen:
(1) Foreign countries could see prices skyrocket to American levels. This would put some great political pressure on the promise of nationalized healthcare in those countries.
(2) Foreign countries could see the writing on the wall, and not allow the export of drugs to America. I love it. This would lay it out fairly clearly to American voters that we can't buy their cheap drugs because France and Canada want us to subsidize their systems. That's a trade battle worth having.
Well their are many other possibilities of course, but they all come back to the need for foreign countries to have us subsidize their drug development. This uneven relationship is corrupting international trade deals and intellectual property protection for U.S. companies. Let's throw a wrench in the works. Bring on the cheap imports!