These are unique times we’re living in, so before I criticize this guy for his Big Pharma love, I feel compelled to hand him a well-earned compliment: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) acted heroically in voting to impeach former President Trump in the wake of the violent January 6th assault on Congress. Whether or not you agree with Burr’s vote, history shows politicians rarely cross the aisle to impeach someone in their own party. Senator Burr’s vote was courageous. I stand by that even though he decided not to run for re-election in 2022.
People (like me) often accuse politicians of carrying water for Big Pharma so that they will receive large campaign contributions from the industry. During Sen. Burr’s last campaign in 2016, he received over $200,000 in campaign contributions from drug companies. These contributions contributed to him receiving an F grade on drug prices on the Prescription Justice Congressional Report Card. Even though he is not facing an election in 2022, Sen. Burr continues to espouse public policy beliefs and talking points of the multinational pharmaceutical industry. So maybe he is genuinely a believer in the pharmaceutical industry being able to charge anything it wants for life-saving medications because that’s the business model supposedly supporting wonderful advances in biomedical research. Maybe.
This week, I’m proud to announce that I teamed up with Stephen Salant, PhD, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Michigan, to write an op-ed called “The one-two punch to knock out high drug prices.” Professor Salant was also an economist with the Federal Reserve Board and the Rand Corporation. Our article, published today in The Hill, recommends legislation and regulatory reforms that would promote safe prescription drug importation and implement a most favored nation system of drug pricing for Medicare. The recommendations are based on executive orders from the Trump administration and Democratic legislation from the previous Congress. They should have intense bipartisan support.
Lots of others have written articles advocating similar reforms, but our article employs new economic theory articulated by Dr. Salant in a paper called Arbitrage Deterrence: A Theory of International Drug Pricing. You can read the op-ed and the paper (if you have strong math skills) but the gist is that: 1) Promoting drug importation, both personal and wholesale would lead to lower domestic but higher foreign drug prices, 2) Simultaneously implementing a strong system for international reference pricing would curtail the aforementioned drug price increases and create a noble cycle of lower and reasonable foreign and domestic prices, and 3) the savings to the U.S. government would be more than enough to subsidize biopharmaceutical research to offset lower R&D investments from drug companies.
With lies and deception, Big Pharma has used the threat posed by rogue websites and counterfeit drugs to push back against U.S. state legislation to gain access to lower drug prices in Canada. Regardless, several states have passed laws toward creating importation programs: Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Vermont. Simple summary: Canada’s brand drugs are priced much lower and states want access to them. These state laws have largely been confined to wholesale drug importation. That is, until this week when California Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager introduced the Affordable Prescription Drug Importation Act, AB 458. The bill not only calls for wholesale importation from Canada – but also personal drug importation from Canada and other countries, subject to Section 804 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It’s about time!
The bill states:
“This bill would authorize an individual to import a prescription drug only for use by that individual or a member of that individual’s immediate family from a foreign pharmacy if specified requirements are met. The bill would prohibit an individual from, among other things, importing a prescription drug for resale or a controlled substance.”
This is a huge step in the right direction because Americans are already buying medications internationally. Millions have done so from safe international online pharmacies – and the law technically permits this through enforcement discretion, but they should have “express permission.” As I stated in a press release yesterday: