Saturday, December 19, 2009

In deal with Big Pharma, Senate blocks drug reimportation

On Tuesday night the Senate took up an amendment that would have allowed for the reimportation of prescription drugs. It is estimated that consumers could save up to $38 million a year if drug reimportation was permitted. That is not small change. It is hard to see how anyone who professes to really care about the health of our citizens and is concerned about the cost of health care could oppose this amendment, but they did. The drug reimportation measure which required 60 votes to pass, failed by a vote of 51 in favor and 48 opposed.

I am not na├»ve and I understand how things work. Deals are often cut and people make compromises. Sometimes you must ally yourself with an evil policy in order to achieve a greater good. Sometimes you must deal with the devil. I am sure that that is how Democrats justify their opposition to drug reimportation. As a candidate, Obama promised to support drug reimportation but he changed his position in order to get the pharmaceutical industry’s support for the Democratic version of health care reform.

Americans pay much more for drugs than people in many other nations of the world. This is because in much of the world governments sets the prices that people may pay for any particular drugs. The drug companies can still sell drugs at the lower cost and make a profit at these lower prices because the marginal production cost of a particular pill may be pennies but the cost of the first pill may be millions. To win FDA approval for a new drug, a company must invest on average between 12 and 15 years and $800 million in research and development.

When governments in other countries dictate the price that their citizens may pay for a particular medicine then the people in countries without price controls pay the bulk of the cost of research and development. If all nations had drug price controls then funds for development of new drugs would dry up. I do not like the fact that the American consumer must pay the cost of the drug research and development that benefits the rest of the world. I do not like the fact that the American consumer is subsidizing socialized medical systems abroad.

Some would argue that the way to end this inequity is for the US to also adopt drug price controls. The problem with this is that new drug development would be limited by the amount of money that governments appropriate for this purpose. If we remove the market for advancements in health care, we will see less advancement. A way to force other countries to share the cost of research and development is to allow Americans to reimport drugs. If this was widely permitted, the drug companies would have to drive a harder bargain in negotiating prices in countries with price controls and those countries would eventually have to allow their prices to increase and thus their consumers would share in the cost of new drug development. Prices that people in other countries pay for drugs would increase and the price Americans pay would decrease.

If you are a progressive Democrat who thought you could get a health care public option which would eventually lead to a government take over of the health care system, then buying off the pharmaceutical industry by prohibiting drug reimportation may have been the price you were willing to pay. Now, however, it looks like the public option is off the table and no one should be honor-bound to continue the pharmaceutical deal. The deal should no longer be binding.

Some people who I otherwise admire and respect, such as McCain, Kyl, and Tennessee's Senator Bob Corker voted aginast this bill. I am sure the logic that those who voted against the bill are applying is that if they can keep the health care bill as bad as possible, it has a better chance of being defeated. I can't fault the logic but I think that there are times when one must to do the right thing rather than play politics. If they have other reasons why they voted against this bill I would like to hear them. I can't help but wonder if their is a relationship between campaign contributions and how one voted on this bill.

Some Democrats who I don't particularly like, such as Boxer, Durban, Dodd, and Reid surprised me and voted in favor of the amendment. In doing so they may have put at risk the deal with Big Pharma. I now have more respect for those Democrates.

To see how your senator voted, look at the list below.

Grouped by Home State
Alabama: Sessions (R-AL), Nay; Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Alaska: Begich (D-AK), Nay; Murkowski (R-AK), Yea
Arizona: Kyl (R-AZ), Nay; McCain (R-AZ), Nay
Arkansas: Lincoln (D-AR), Yea; Pryor (D-AR), Nay
California: Boxer (D-CA), Yea; Feinstein (D-CA), Nay
Colorado: Bennet (D-CO), Nay; Udall (D-CO), Yea
Connecticut: Dodd (D-CT), Yea; Lieberman (ID-CT), Yea
Delaware: Carper (D-DE), Yea; Kaufman (D-DE), Yea
Florida: LeMieux (R-FL), Yea; Nelson (D-FL), Nay
Georgia: Chambliss (R-GA), Yea; Isakson (R-GA), Yea
Hawaii: Akaka (D-HI), Yea; Inouye (D-HI), Nay
Idaho: Crapo (R-ID), Yea; Risch (R-ID), Yea
Illinois: Burris (D-IL), Yea; Durbin (D-IL), Yea
Indiana: Bayh (D-IN), Yea; Lugar (R-IN), Yea
Iowa: Grassley (R-IA), Nay; Harkin (D-IA), Nay
Kansas: Brownback (R-KS), Yea; Roberts (R-KS), Yea
Kentucky: Bunning (R-KY), Yea; McConnell (R-KY), Nay
Louisiana: Landrieu (D-LA), Yea; Vitter (R-LA), Nay
Maine: Collins (R-ME), Nay; Snowe (R-ME), Nay
Maryland: Cardin (D-MD), Yea; Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Massachusetts: Kerry (D-MA), Yea; Kirk (D-MA), Yea
Michigan: Levin (D-MI), Nay; Stabenow (D-MI), Nay
Minnesota: Franken (D-MN), Nay; Klobuchar (D-MN), Nay
Mississippi: Cochran (R-MS), Yea; Wicker (R-MS), Nay
Missouri: Bond (R-MO), Yea ; McCaskill (D-MO), Nay
Montana: Baucus (D-MT), Yea; Tester (D-MT), Yea
Nebraska: Johanns (R-NE), Nay; Nelson (D-NE), Yea
Nevada: Ensign (R-NV), Yea; Reid (D-NV), Yea
New Hampshire: Gregg (R-NH), Nay; Shaheen (D-NH), Nay
New Jersey: Lautenberg (D-NJ), Yea; Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
New Mexico: Bingaman (D-NM), Nay; Udall (D-NM), Nay
New York: Gillibrand (D-NY), Yea; Schumer (D-NY), Yea
North Carolina: Burr (R-NC), Yea; Hagan (D-NC), Yea
North Dakota: Conrad (D-ND), Nay; Dorgan (D-ND), Nay
Ohio: Brown (D-OH), Nay; Voinovich (R-OH), Yea
Oklahoma: Coburn (R-OK), Nay; Inhofe (R-OK), Yea
Oregon: Merkley (D-OR), Nay; Wyden (D-OR), Nay
Pennsylvania: Casey (D-PA), Yea; Specter (D-PA), Yea
Rhode Island: Reed (D-RI), Yea; Whitehouse (D-RI), Nay
South Carolina: DeMint (R-SC), Nay; Graham (R-SC), Nay
South Dakota: Johnson (D-SD), Yea; Thune (R-SD), Nay
Tennessee: Alexander (R-TN), Yea; Corker (R-TN), Nay
Texas: Cornyn (R-TX), Yea; Hutchison (R-TX), Yea
Utah: Bennett (R-UT), Yea; Hatch (R-UT), Nay
Vermont: Leahy (D-VT), Nay; Sanders (I-VT), Nay
Virginia: Warner (D-VA), Yea; Webb (D-VA), Nay
Washington: Cantwell (D-WA), Yea; Murray (D-WA), Yea
West Virginia: Byrd (D-WV), Not Voting; Rockefeller (D-WV), Yea
Wisconsin: Feingold (D-WI), Nay; Kohl (D-WI), Nay
Wyoming: Barrasso (R-WY), Yea; Enzi (R-WY), Yea

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