Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Canada's drug prices

This article is so on the money. Politicians are debating these days over whether or not to allow citizens or states to import drugs from Canada and/or Europe, but such a debate skirts the real issue: Canada has price caps on prescription drugs. The pharmaceutical companies have successfully lobbied Congress to prevent such caps. In fact, such caps are anathema to conservative (small "c") principles of economics. To the conservative mind, Canada, Europe, Japan, and other parts of the world are the aberration to the free market. To the conservative mind, the US should remain a free market and encourage the rest of the world to join us while the US public gets screwed on the price.

Hey, I'm actually sympathetic to the concept of allowing people to buy their prescriptions from countries that have health standards at or near our own levels. Most people won't do it because it would take too long to get the prescriptions and their health plans probably wouldn't cover it.

Still, the real issue is the structure of our medical system. First of all, I argue that our medical system must be considered a matter of national defense. We should have some national standards. I'd save the drug companies money tomorrow by refusing to let them advertise on television and print media unless that prime demographic for that media was the same primary care physician why would prescribe the substance (in other words, professional journals). More of the money spent on establishing new drugs is spent on advertising it rather than R & D.

I'd also pass laws that would greatly punish drug companies from delaying the introduction of generics after the 7 years that they are allowed exclusivity to the drug under current law. In other words, making a slight modification to the claritin formula would not allow the company to prevent a generic firm to manufacture and market that drug. Not to let the generic firms off of the hook: they would be required to make the exact same dosage as the drug they are replacing (this is not always the case).

We also seriously need to take a look at Health Insurance. The industry cries about reforms to malpractice, but that is not the flaw in the system. No special amnesty should be provided that makes a group immune from our legal system. That's just not the democratic rule of law we aspire towards. Instead, there must be other ways to cut costs in the system and to train physicians better so that we're not faced with the suits in the first place. Is a National Health Care system the way to go? In my opinion, yes, but I know that there will be a great push back against that. Should we try to find a middle ground as a first step? Absolutely and I think that first middle step might look at pharmaceutical profits here rather than importing drugs from our friends to the north.

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