Yesterday, Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) officially introduced a bipartisan amendment to allow Americans to import foreign drugs. “My goal isn’t to ask the American people to buy their prescription drugs overseas, my goal is that if we allow the American people to do that, the pharmaceutical industry would be required to re-price their drugs in the country,” Dorgan said, stressing that “the American people pay the highest drug prices in the world for brand name prescription drugs.”
In other words, rather than regulating the pharmaceutical industry domestically, Dorgan wants to rely on foreign regulations. It’s a round about way of getting at the problem of skyrocketing drug prices — but it makes for effective political rhetoric.
From Dorgan’s rather convincing explanation of the problem:
- Drug prices increased 9.3% this year, during a period of national deflation.
- The industry creates demand for drugs through ubiquitous advertising, and then increases prices for American consumers.
- Americans pay 3 to 4 times more for brand name drugs than consumers in Europe and Canada.
- A substantial number of the drugs developed and produced by the pharmaceutical industry were developed at the National Institute of Health.
Watch a compilation of Dorgan’s presentation:
It’s an argument for letting someone else fix the drug price problem. But if policy makers can iron-out the logistical and safety issues (and lawmakers are reluctant to take on the drug industry), why not try it? After all, even President Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel supported reimportation.
Now, Obama’s Food and Drug Administration opposes it. The Dorgan amendment “would be logistically challenging to implement and resource intensive. In addition, there are significant safety concerns,” FDA administrator Margaret Hamburg wrote in a letter. Dorgan contends that some FDA-approved drugs are already manufactured at FDA-approved foreign plants and that 40% of active ingredients in American drugs are important from India and China.
Ultimately, if the administration wants to retain the industry’s support for broader health care reform, that’s understandable. But it must also take this opportunity do something to address rising drug costs and the disparity in pricing.