Speaking of intellectual dishonesty on the Seattle Times op/ed pages, Collin Levey is up to her usual rhetorical mischief in her latest column: “Cheap drugs help no one if they’re not effective“.
Collin’s springboard is the recent recall of Indian-made generic HIV drugs, that had been intended for the AIDS-ravaged African market. She uses this unfortunate incident as an opportunity to criticize (largely Democratic) efforts to permit reimportation of less expensive drugs from Canada:
In the past two years, there has been a stampede on the part of governors and Washington, D.C., policymakers to authorize the reimportation of drugs from Canada and other nations.
All the problems of America’s expensive medications could be solved, this contingent said, by performing a simple end-run around the greedy juggernaut of profit-seeking drug companies. In this, as in Africa, the Bush administration’s insistence that it would not sanction the safety of drugs not vetted by the Food and Drug Administration has been met with sneers and accusations of callous disregard for human life.
It’s Collin who is sneering, and her callous disregard is for truthful debate. We’re talking about the reimportation from Canada of drugs manufactured in the United States. She may not be implying that Canadian pharmacies are passing off ineffective Indian generics… but she’s certainly hoping that’s the inference her readers will come away with.
The safety issue is a red herring, and Collin knows it.
That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Collin when she says “Canadian reimportation is an idiotic idea” — but probably not for the same reasons.
Can anybody seriously suggest that shipping drugs to Canada and then shipping them back to the US is an efficient, cost-effective distribution system? Canadian drugs are cheaper because the Canadian government negotiates with the pharmaceutical companies to obtain favorable pricing for its citizens… something the Bush administration explicitly prohibited Medicare from doing in the recent reform legislation.
There is no free market in prescription drugs; government health systems and large insurance companies negotiate best pricing the world over. Only in the US are the uninsured and underinsured left to fend for themselves. In effect, American consumers are subsidizing sales of lower priced drugs abroad.
What would happen if the US government paid more care to the welfare of its citizens than the welfare of pharmaceutical executives? No company can or should be forced to operate at a loss. If the US negotiated lower prices for its citizens, then the drug companies would be forced to negotiate higher prices in those markets that can afford it.
In lieu of a free market, we can at the very least strive for a fair one. Especially when it comes to a life-or-death product like prescription drugs.