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Senate Approves Canada Drug Imports!
July 17, 2002 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Senate Approves Canada Drug Imports! "Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said, "If this proposal becomes law, we are just placing our country in the hands of foreign terrorists who could easily get hold of various prescription drug products and spread desolation and disease." Really, Senator, what hallucinogen are you on, and which drug company is buying it for you? I'm sure this bill still faces hurdles, but sounds great to me.
posted by ParisParamus (22 comments total)

 
Now, all we need is the Canadian government to authorize the recognition of American prescriptions by Canadian pharmacies.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:23 PM on July 17, 2002


(I'm looking for an excuse to go to Montreal)
posted by ParisParamus at 2:26 PM on July 17, 2002


I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the drug Senator Hatch is on is called campaign money, and these 'foreign terrorists' are commonly referred to as 'economic competition' by everyone except politicians and drug company lobbyists.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:26 PM on July 17, 2002


My office conducted a survey in February of 2002 of two of the most commonly prescribed prescription drugs. In every case, the prescription in Canada cost significantly less than the same drug in Michigan.

Hey Orrin. Is that a lobbyist in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:39 PM on July 17, 2002


It's pretty barfable how everything that runs counter to pork-barrell fat-cats is now "terrorism."
posted by donkeyschlong at 2:41 PM on July 17, 2002


The Bush administration and the Clinton administration both refused to issue rules to carry out that law. They said they could not certify that the import plan would be safe or would save money for consumers.
I think Bush and Clinton administrations are way worse on this than Hatch on this one. Actualy, I think its kinda nifty Hatch used the phrase "desolation and disease".
But do Bush and Clinton think people are retarded? I don't need the government to certify that something is cheaper, I can look and see for myself. And as being safe goes, I think using any kinds of drugs is a risk anyway, with all these possible side effects or reactions or whatever the terms are. Let the people who are thinking about using the drugs decide the risk, not the government.
Now, lets all continue spreading desolation and disease by leeching off of Canada's health care system.
posted by Keen at 2:41 PM on July 17, 2002


Everybody knows that Orrin's all wacked-out on the LDS.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2002


It doesn't really solve anything long-term, but it's still a step in the right direction. Ultimately, the U.S. has got to find a way to bring drug prices down in THIS country, whether it be through purchasing pools, patent reform or outright price caps (normally price caps are a really bad idea, but this may be an exception since drug makers get a 17 year monopoly on any drug they develop). At the very least, people without insurance should not be forced to pay more than insurance companies and government pay for the same drugs, as is currently the case.

I do think that it's kind of ridiculous for the drug companies to export drugs to Canada only to have wholesalers and pharmacies re-import them to the United States. The importing/exporting industry may be the real winners here.

Finally, there is some really interesting litigation going on right now claiming that a number of drug companies are abusing the patent system in order to extend their patents beyond the legal limit. Presumably, the legislation mentioned at the end of the article was prompted by these same concerns
posted by boltman at 2:46 PM on July 17, 2002


"normally price caps are a really bad idea"

Yes, because they inevitably cause product shortages in the market. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, they must be considered, because intervention always requires more intervention, and then some more intervention, to try and re-balance what the government has screwed up. Granting drug companies a monopoly on drugs with their patent laws is the greatest obstacle to low, competitive drug prices, not to mention heavy regulation of the FDA on what drugs are allowed on the American market, meaning even less competition. It's a mess, but price caps would be a band-aid, which over the long-run would end up making things worse (the law of supply and demand dictates that when you set the price of a good below the equilibrium price, the quantity supply of that good will decrease...). The real problem is with the limits of the existing laws, kept in place by our good friends in the pharmecutical industry.

"Everybody knows that Orrin's all wacked-out on the LDS."

We'd all be better off if he was wacked out on the LSD :)
posted by insomnyuk at 2:55 PM on July 17, 2002


yep, one of the bonus to live in montreal pq.: free drugs for all :) why bother with the illegal ones?
posted by kush at 3:06 PM on July 17, 2002


I agree this is a step in the right direction, but to fix the problem permanently one has to find out why drugs are more expensive in the US than in Canada in the first place.

Presumably drug patent laws are similar, if not identical, in the two countries. Also, Canada isn't much poorer than the US, so this is probably not like the situation where drug companies were shamed into selling AIDS drugs cheaper to Africa. Does the state subsidize drugs in Canada, or is it just that the state is a big buyer and negotiates better discounts? Does anyone here know?
posted by Triplanetary at 3:16 PM on July 17, 2002


the law of supply and demand dictates that when you set the price of a good below the equilibrium price, the quantity supply of that good will decrease

normally yes, but for drug companies, the cost of manufacturing and distributing the drug is negligible. It's the R&D that costs all the money. Once they've gotten the drug to market, its pretty much pure profit for them. There would be no reason for them to decrease production.

I don't think the patent system on the whole is such a bad thing (although it could be improved no doubt). It promotes large R&D investments by drug makers because they know that they are guaranteed a huge return if they discover a blockbuster drug. Unless you advocate huge increases in funding for government research (which i somehow doubt) getting rid of the patent system would greatly slow the development of new drugs. Why invest $500 million in bringing a drug to market if all your competitors are just going to steal it and sell it for far less?

Triplanetary: I believe the Canadian government negotiates discounts with the drug companies. Because just about everyone in Canada has governemnt funded health insurance, the gov't has quite a bit of leverage. In fact, most of the industrialized world gets similar discounts thanks to nationalized health care. The end result is that americans without health insurance pay higher prices for prescription drugs than anyone else in the world. Drug companies simply charge them the highest price that the market will bear.
posted by boltman at 3:39 PM on July 17, 2002


Presumably drug patent laws are similar, if not identical, in the two countries. Also, Canada isn't much poorer than the US, so this is probably not like the situation where drug companies were shamed into selling AIDS drugs cheaper to Africa. Does the state subsidize drugs in Canada, or is it just that the state is a big buyer and negotiates better discounts? Does anyone here know?

Not only are the drug patents laws similar, they are now almost identical. One of the perks of NAFTA for the drug companies was that Canada was forced into extending patent length to match the U.S.

As for the economics, I suspect they are charging what the market will bear. With a socialized health care system the government's of the provinces can control drug prices by threatening to delist them from the approved coverage lists. But one misconception needs to be addressed. Most Canadians do not have drug coverage from the government (Some seniors do I think). We have free health care but drugs are extra.

This cross border price discrepancy occurs in other industries as well. The Gap in Canada charges the same numerical price for their goods even though the value of the cdn dollar is quite a bit less. So my gap khakis cost me $39.50 cdn and cost an American $39.50 usd.

So come shop in Canada if you can. Our dollar is cheap, consumer goods are cheap and we are all funnier than both Mike Myers and the Barenaked Ladies when we say "about".
posted by srboisvert at 3:54 PM on July 17, 2002


My info and experience: drugs are much cheaper in Canada. But Canada has laws presently in place that prevent Net sales of drugs, though it does happen from time to time. Many people in my part of the country (N.E) esp. the elderly take bus trip to Canada and can buy a three-month supply of what they need. They then claim they can get it shipped to them after they run out.
Question: why is it that so many of the drugs bought in Canada are made by companies located in U.S.? There is a cap on how much above price drugs can be sold for in Canada.
Wrost thing: I had read that drug companies charged more in the U.S. than in many other countries because they said Americans have more money! If that is the case, what of those Americans that do not have as much money?
How much of the markup is due to the Govt paying out of tax bucks to help out the elderly in need of drugs?
posted by Postroad at 4:13 PM on July 17, 2002


Does the state subsidize drugs in Canada, or is it just that the state is a big buyer and negotiates better discounts? Does anyone here know?

It's very simple: Canadians aren't willing to pay as much for the same drugs as Americans are. The nature of the pharmaceutical business is that once you actually get a drug to market, the marginal cost of each dose is usually very low, and different people are willing to pay vastly different amounts for the same dose. As long as they can keep charging the people who are willing to pay more the higher price, pharmaceutical companies have no reason not to sell the drugs cheaper to those who are not willing to pay as much (i.e. Canadians).

Drug prices in the US are going to continue to rise until insurers and consumers start saying "This drug is too expensive. I'm not going to buy it, and I'll just make do with what's already out there." All that reimportation will do is increase the price of drugs in Canada.
posted by jaek at 4:34 PM on July 17, 2002


srboisvert: the party quebecois initiated an universal drug insurance coverage a couple years back... yes it's free in quebec, for all, there's a list, expensive drugs don't get on it until pharm co. smarten and drop the price, there's also a great level of control from the federal, but in the end it's a win-win situation: lots of drugs are guaranteed to be sold because of this and the wealth is redistributed to everyone, poor, old, rich... oh wait, socialism! you can't have that in the u.s. can you?
posted by kush at 5:57 PM on July 17, 2002


Did seeing Orrin Hatch's name remind anyone else of Chris Rock's Bigger and Blacker routine about the Clinton scandal? I believe the bit was:

"'Well, I think this is despicable.'

"That's because nobody wants to blow you! Nobody wants to blow Orrin Hatch!"

Good times. Good times.
posted by BlueTrain at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2002


um... i live in new york and get my prescription drugs through the mail from canada. and i'm pretty sure it's all totally legal. and if it is illegal, it's pretty darn out in the open: do a google search for pharmacy and check out the third sponsored link (text ad); that's my drugstore, cross border pharmacy (which is a slightly shady name, i'll admit, but they've been very much on the up and up in my dealings with them).

no, it's not one of those outfits where they write you the prescription and then send you viagra or fen-phen or whatever. cross border pharmacy actually won't sell any sketchy drugs. but for 'normal' meds, you just have your (american) doctor fax them a(n american) prescription, the pharmacy fills and ships your order and then bills your credit card.

why do i use this service? well, i'm currently uninsured, and (as has been pointed out previously in this thread as well as in the linked article) the drugs are significantly cheaper in canada. for example: the two prescriptions i get filled ballpark at $140 and $110 (us) at my corner drug store; the canadian pharmacy only charges $75 and $60 (us), respectively.
posted by mlang at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2002


I can't find the article at the moment, but I had read somewhere that the US is one of the only countries in the world without price caps on prescription drugs, and therefore the pharmaceutical companies raise our prices accordingly to make up for what they lose in countries (like Canada) with price caps.
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:22 AM on July 18, 2002


Oriole: actually, the situation is arguably worse that what you describe since HMOs do cap prices, the result being that uninsured people pay even higher prices.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:59 AM on July 18, 2002


I think that the whole prescription drug system in the US needs an overhaul. There are regulations to protect everyone except the patient. I have type 1 diabetes. That means my life depends on a constant supply of prescription drugs. That means constantly having to deal with doctors, insurance, prescriptions, etc. since I was 8 years old.

I stumbled upon canadapharmacy.com in a google ad, while searching for something else. They offer to ship insulin cheaply, and without a prescription. This is a potential life saver. The price of the drug there is the same as my co - payment. Also, unlike here, I can buy as much as I want.

Someone suggested earlier that we should stop buying prescription drugs, so prices will go down. Drugs aren't a luxury item to some of us.
posted by octavius at 7:27 AM on July 18, 2002


Heh, I checked the online prices at mlang's suggested pharmacy for one of my daily meds:

100 75mg capsules: $136
100 150mg capsules: $145

What a scam!

Gee, I take 150mg per day (usually two 75mg capsules). Guess I'd buy the 150mg capsules if I had to pay it all out-of-pocket. I may have to do that soon, as my COBRA is due to run out in October.

Pharmaceuticals are profit at the point of a gun, really. What other industry can offer people life itself, directly? (or relief from sometimes dire suffering)

"Buy this or die! And oh yeah, it's patented, so I can charge you anything I damn well please." That's not part of a free market, that's extortion. Bastards.

As an aside, that Canadian pharmacy carries Domperidone, a galactogogue (drug that helps build up a nursing mother's milk supply) that is unavailable in the US. It also happens to be way more effective than anything else available. (And yes, it's legal to get a US doctor to prescribe it, and have the prescription refilled remotely and sent into the US).
posted by beth at 7:38 AM on July 18, 2002


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