- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2004

A bipartisan coalition of senators is again trying to make it legal to reimport price-controlled drugs from Canada. To these legislators, providing seniors with a prescription-drug entitlement for the first time ever — which President Bush accomplished last year with the help of Republican congressional leaders — isn’t enough. The costly new entitlement supposedly is inadequate because it leaves some medicine costs to the consumer. While cheap Canadian drugs might lower costs initially, the policy is dangerous to the consumer and unfair to pharmaceutical companies. It also takes a big step toward nationalized health care. Reimportation would be bad for America.

There can be little doubt that drug reimportation is unsafe. One unavoidable problem is that there is no guarantee that drugs from outside U.S. borders are authentic. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has documented numerous cases of counterfeit drugs being imported into America already. The Food and Drug Administration is opposed to reimportation because it has determined there is no way to verify the origin or integrity of pharmaceuticals from foreign countries.

None of these risks deter those who want cheap drugs no matter the cost. The 2003 health-care reform legislation that passed the Senate contained a reimportation provision. However, backers of the policy want to pass a new bill that isn’t encumbered by the safety provision in last year’s bill. The allegedly troublesome requirement is a stamp of approval by HHS guaranteeing the safety of reimported drugs, a task the department maintains is impossible. The House bill that passed last year would open the floodgates to medicines from more than 20 countries with no HHS imprimatur required. In short, the proponents of reimportation are going against the safety recommendation of both HHS and the FDA while putting trust in numerous foreign drug-protection systems.

The debate on this issue has been anything but straightforward. Many reimportation backers have misleadingly tried to sell the idea on a free-trade basis. But market principles have little or nothing to do with the health-care systems in Canada and the other nations from which drugs could be reimported. Aside from highly socialized health care, most of these nations force American pharmaceutical companies to sell cheap drugs at state-set prices by threatening to accept counterfeit medicines if businesses don’t go along. The drug companies have decided that small profits are better than none at all. Reimportation rewards the shakedown and gives legitimacy to the foreign socialized systems.

Reimportation advocates constantly rail at the “unfair profits” made by drug producers. It is these profits that fund research and development of important new drugs, progress which is overwhelmingly made in America. Minimizing pharmaceutical profits by allowing reimportation dries up research and development funds. Such a trend does not improve American health.

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