Seniors have grown weary of waiting for Congress to enact a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, and many have taken matters into their own hands, violating federal law to order cheap drugs over the Internet from Canada.
Now, mayors and governors around the country are joining in, putting intense pressure on Congress to legalize the practice in hopes their governments can ease budget pressures by importing price-controlled drugs for their employees.
But members of Congress looking for a cheap and easy solution should listen to the grown ups in their leadership who warn against reckless legislation that would likely cost much more than it could ever save.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert warned against ?unsustainable populist schemes? that would fail to produce the expected savings and jeopardize the safety of the U.S. drug supply in the process.
FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan says his agency has seen a four-fold increase in counterfeit drugs entering the U.S. He ordered a spot check at four mail facilities last summer and found that 88% of the packages examined contained drugs that were fake, contaminated, or otherwise posed potential threats.
Democrat Rep. John Dingell of Michigan warns that legalizing drug importation ?will allow this country to be flooded with unsafe, counterfeit drugs; drugs that will not do what they should; drugs that are unsafe; drugs that will kill the American people.”
Canada has notified the U.S. that if the legislation were to pass, it cannot guarantee the safety of the drugs flowing through its borders. The U.S. would have to invest hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in new inspection facilities to make sure that profiteers and even terrorists aren?t using the new portals to harm Americans.
Any savings that state and local governments hope to gain would easily be swallowed up by liability exposure. Just one incident leading to a sizable jury award would erase any savings.
Drugs have become even more lucrative to counterfeiters than currency. Passing legislation to legalize prescription drug imports from Canada and Europe would be an open invitation for unscrupulous drug dealers to sell sugar pills as Lipitor, water as insulin ? and worse.
It is true that other rich countries in Europe are not paying their fair share of the research and development costs to develop new drugs. Their government-run health care systems demand low prices that don?t account for all of the costs that went into developing the drug, forcing Americans to pay a bigger share for R&D.
But the drug companies have few options. Foreign governments threaten them by saying they either must agree to the prices offered or risk losing their patent rights.
Hastert said he intends to push for trade agreement to stop these Mafioso tactics. But trade agreements are long-term solutions. Seniors want action now.
Congress is in the final stages of developing a Medicare bill to cover prescription drug costs for seniors. A properly-structured Medicare bill is the right solution.
But in the meantime, seniors can visit the websites of the major pharmaceutical companies to see if they are eligible for discounts on their products. And they also can ask their doctor about lower-cost generics.
Seniors should explore these options to avoid risking their health and jeopardizing the nation?s drug supply.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit public policy research organization focusing on health reform issues. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA 22320 or firstname.lastname@example.org