Forgetting about the potential dangers to competition from corporate Leviathan Amazon, that it launched a new online pharmacy this week will certainly appeal to tens of millions of Americans. Prescription drugs are yet another thing you can get when you go to Amazon.com. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member (aren’t we all?), then there are discounts and whip-fast delivery to be had. But, unlike in many other industries where Amazon can crush the competition on prices, its online pharmacy launch does not accomplish that. Brand name drugs, ones without and even with generic competition, are similarly priced to other American pharmacies. PharmacyChecker checked this out and has some good advice for consumers about Amazon’s pharmacy at Ask PharmacyChecker this week.
Overall, brand name drugs do not appear to be any cheaper using Amazon Pharmacy than what you can get using a discount card found on GoodRx or PharmacyChecker. How can they when the pharmaceutical industry has monopolistic pricing power over patented drugs? Amazon is subject to the same average wholesale acquisition costs as Walgreens. Not only do drug manufacturers have patents: they have special international trade protections where companies cannot import these same drugs from foreign wholesalers who charge much lower prices in Canada, not to mention the even lower prices in the UK and European Union countries – unless the drug manufacturers do the importing or authorize it.
A surrogate for the Trump campaign, Katy Talento, stated in an interview with Elisabeth Rosenthal, Editor-in-Chief, Kaiser Health News, that personal drug importation is allowed as a means for Americans to afford prescription drugs. I bring this up to make two points:
One, to remind the reader about the legal basis for the non-enforcement policy.
Two, to point out that during the Trump administration, the FDA has actually increased the numbers of prescription drug orders from other countries that it seizes, flouting the non-enforcement policy.
Ms. Talento’s remarks came in the form of an answer to a question that Ms. Rosenthal asked on behalf of Mike from Louisiana. Mike stated that he and his wife get their meds from Canada because they cost 50-75% less. Trump has been raging about drug prices for four years, but when are they going to see savings on their U.S. pharmacy shelves? Start at minute 42:00 in the video below.
Trump’s executive order on drug importation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to grant waivers expressly allowing personal drug importation. Unlike most of his executive orders, this one is fully consistent with federal law [18 USC 384(J)] (“Part J”). During the executive order signing ceremony a few weeks back, HHS Secretary Alex Azar bragged about Trump’s willingness to move forward on personal importation:
“Presidents before you have promised over and over again to allow importation; the safe importation of drugs from lower cost countries, you’re the first present to deliver on it.”
Not so fast! The executive order does empower greater action on Part J but a next step is where the rubber hits the road. What Americans want now, Republicans and Democrats among them, is to receive those waivers!
President Trump has stated that we will withdraw from the WHO, stating things about the organization that are not true – but also making legitimate criticisms. Do we quit the Department of Health and Human Services or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of their many failures? I mean on the political fringes of U.S. politics, anarchists and free market fanatics, you might find some support for quitting the federal government! But no, we need those government entities to protect and improve our health as a nation. There are many areas of public health, however, that we can’t deal with effectively alone as one country, and that’s where the WHO is really needed. Say, for things like… um, er, let me think… global pandemics.
I’m on a roll here, agreeing with drug companies on an issue related to affordable medicines access. Last week, I wrote about Gilead’s messaging about remdesivir, the new Covid-19 treatment permitted via FDA’s emergency use authorization: namely that you can’t buy remdesivir online: if you try, you’ll be scammed. Often drug companies lie or pay others to lie about buying drugs online from other countries, but not in that case. This week, I’m agreeing with the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) that the Trump administration’s new rule on drug manufacturer co-payment cards is not good for consumers because it will prevent the co-payment from counting toward deductibles, which means higher costs for patients.
If you didn’t know, drug manufacturers blanket medical offices throughout the country with their co-pay cards. These cards are sometimes immensely helpful to patients going to fill a prescription for a brand name drug, particularly when there is no generic substitute. How? Simple: the drug company picks up the tab!
The window for public comments on the FDA’s
notice on proposed rulemaking about drug importation under Section 804 of
the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is closing on Monday March 9th – and I’m not
done writing! So, this post will be short and sweet but highly relevant. Of
course, lower drug prices in foreign countries are on my mind today – as they
often are. And they were also on the minds of the truth-sleuth masters over at
Politifact yesterday. The title gives away the answer already so go take a look
at how Politifact
checks out U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore’s (D-WI) statement: “Prescription drug
companies are charging Americans prices that are on average 4x higher than
what’s charged in other countries.” Or read on for the super quick explanation.