PharmacyChecker Blog

Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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Consumers Missing from Bloomberg’s Investigative Reporting on PhRMA and Importation

This week, journalist Ben Elgin of Bloomberg published an exceedingly thorough and investigative report about how the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), funded by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), is behind a massive campaign to defeat drug importation proposals that seek to lower drug prices. In fact, the report disclosed that PSM apparently received $7 million in 2017 to oppose importation. But the story omitted what’s arguably most important to consumers now, as I see the evidence shows: PSM’s misinformation about access to lower-cost medicines available online from foreign pharmacies. 

I’ve been writing about the Partnership for Safe Medicines since 2010. PharmacyChecker is a target of PSM’s “public education” campaigns about online pharmacies, and PSM is one of the defendants in our current antitrust lawsuit against several organizations funded by drug companies. PSM’s recent blitz against drug importation is not just about state wholesale drug importation proposals or Trump’s related initiatives: far from it. The evidence from its history shows it’s about undermining the case for personal drug importation. 

The Bloomberg report points correctly to 2003, the year that legislation passed to allow importation from Canada, but with a poison pill built in. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would have to certify that the new imports would pose no new safety risks and would achieve significant savings. It was that same year that PhRMA hired Edelman, a public relations firm, to put together focus groups to find out how to stop Americans from importing their medications for personal use, since the federal prohibitions were not a deterrent (as no one is prosecuted for such small imports). PhRMA concluded that instilling fear of counterfeit drugs among consumers was the way of the future. That year, PSM was born. 

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Bloomberg Editors Call U.S. Drug Prices A Crime

The heat is rising on the pharmaceutical industry because of high drug prices. The politically and economically middle-of-the-road editors at Bloomberg published an opinion piece this week called “U.S Prescription Drug Costs Are a Crime.” The gist in the article is that policy tweaks are not enough, pointing out that President Trump’s rhetoric on drug prices is much stronger that the reality of his actions. Major changes are needed, such as drug price negotiations in Medicare and making importation of lower-cost medication legal (something one in ten Americans already do, according to Bloomberg).

I love this article, but it doesn’t state clearly why drug prices are a crime. The answer is tens of millions of Americans aren’t filling prescriptions because of them each year. Many get sick and some even die because of them. For some cancer patients, it’s extortion. “Give me the money,” pharma says. “Or die.” Your money or your life.

Still, we all know that a crime is an act that violates laws of a governing authority as proven through due process of those laws. And our laws allow the pharmaceutical industry to charge the prices referred to as a “crime” in Bloomberg.

That said, there is litigation targeting drug companies, pharmacies, and insurance companies/PBMs for violating laws to keep drug prices high. Examples include insulin price fixing, collusion between health insurers and pharmacies, and pharmacy kickbacks to PBMs. However, to an extent not found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, U.S. laws permit—even encourage—increasing drug prices out of reach for patients who need them. Lawful but unjust.

It gets sicker and more unjust: technically, a patient who re-imports a medication from Canada because it’s her only affordable option is subject to jail and fines. No, that’s never happened, but it’s despicable that the law makes it a possibility while drug prices continue to climb.

Justice and law, when it comes to prescription drug prices in America, are fully out of whack.

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