Let Them Eat Dog Food


Unless you have been in a coma over the past dozen years or so, you would know that prescription drug prices have shot through the roof and millions of cash-strapped seniors have resorted to all sorts of methods to find ways to cut their costs.  Since the U.S. is a “market economy” it is almost sacrilegious to suggest that the government put caps on prices or in some way regulate the product.  After all, the argument goes, the “free market” is the best way to get the best products at the lowest prices into the hands of consumers.  Yeah, right, as it there are no subsidies given over to big business (perhaps as much as $150 billion each year), all from tax dollars of course.

A story in the Los Angeles Times (“Lawmakers Vote to Allow Drug Purchases From Canada,” August 29, 2004) brings up this subject once again, since legislators approved a package of bills that would allow the importation of cheap drugs from Canada.  The story notes that even though it is against the law, about a million Americans already buy their drugs from Canadian pharmacies.  And this must piss off U.S. pharmaceutical companies, since they lose about $1 billion a year in revenue. Prices in Canada are as much as 40% cheaper.  Why, because the government puts a “cap” on prices; that is, the government subsidizes citizens instead of drug companies!

Among the other bills being offered by the state legislature include two that “would set up a government-run Internet site that would compare prices between Canada and the United States, link consumers to Canadian pharmacies and target shady and dangerous drug-selling websites.”  Still another bill would “allow California pharmacies to sign contracts with Canadian pharmacies to purchase drugs for Medi-Cal and the AIDS drug-assistance program — saving $9 million a year in drug costs, advocates contend. The state would split the savings with the pharmacies.” This sounds reasonable to me.  Who would not want their government looking out for their health and safety, not to mention their pocketbook?  But this must be going too far!  Governor Schwarzenegger plans to “terminate” (oops, sorry, I meat “veto”) any bills that dare challenge the “free market” system. Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman for the governor, explained why he would veto this and similar bills: “If legislation reaches his desk that would break the law, yes. Because right now, what we need to do is focus on what's right for the people and not breaking the law.” 

Yes, it is “against the law,” but whose law?  Where do laws come from?  Did all the seniors in the country urge their legislators to pass a law prohibiting the purchasing of drugs from other countries so they could save a little money?  We can’t do that in the U.S. because the politicians who pass the laws take their orders from big business, in this case the pharmaceutical industry.  The article in the Los Angeles Times notes thatBiomedical research companies and national pharmaceutical manufacturers hired an army of lobbyists to defeat nearly a dozen bills before the Legislature this year. But their efforts now are turning to Schwarzenegger.”  The article goes on to point out that drug makers have contributed to the governor ever since his election ($186,000 from a San Francisco firm called Genentech, plus another $100,000 from one of the big ones, Pfizer).  Drug companies donated $103,000 to his recall election last year.  And that’s what has been officially reported, since who knows how much has been given indirectly.

Drug companies have consistently claimed that you cannot trust drugs from foreign countries because they might not be safe.  That sounds comical coming from the same drug companies that have been among the top corporate offenders over the past 20-30 years! Republican Assemblyman George Plescia of San Diego brought out the common term “rule of law," which hides the fact that we are a society ruled by very rich white men. Plescia said that we are ignoring this rule of law and “encouraging illegal importation of drugs from Canada is the wrong way. There is a reason that the federal government has a ban on drug importation. Drugs from foreign countries have not been proven safe." 

The story goes on to point out that the drug companies have warned consumers about the safety of drugs that come from Canada.  Well, one of the bills would apparently investigate and make certain they are safe.  U.S. drug companies also claim that comparing prices between Canada and the U.S. is “misleading.”  Why?  Well, because Canada has “nationalized” their health-care system! This is the dreaded “socialism” they have always warned us against!  The Times story goes on to point out that U.S. drug companies warn us that “siphoning money from the U.S. market would jeopardize the country's status as the world's leader in drug research and development.”  Well, at least they are being honest!  U.S. drug companies, like other American corporations, can’t handle competition, which is why they have actively sought state supports (called “corporate welfare”).  One recent study of the 100 largest corporations in the world, every one of them had received subsidies from their government (mostly U.S.) and that at least 20 had been saved from bankruptcy via government bailouts.

The irony here is that in the richest country in the world that thinks nothing of spending billions of dollars policing the world and invading other countries like Iraq (and who knows which country is next in line), that gives billions of taxpayer dollars to corporations, refuses to have a government-supported health care system because the drug companies would lose some of their profits.  It is as if seniors are being told to “eat dog food” since some literally do that rather than go without their life-saving medications.


Las Vegas Mercury, 9/9/04


Update 2009: As of May, the Obama administration has submitted a health care reform proposal to Congress. It is not the same “single payer” system in Europe and Canada. See, for example, the following: “Obama calls for overhaul of U.S. health care system.” CNN, March 5, 2009 (http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/05/health.care.summit/index.html); for a critique see “Obama to Single Payer Advocates: Drop Dead,” Corporate Crime Reporter (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/03/03-15).