Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bi-Partisan Support for Drug Competition heads to day three of debate

For nearly two days now the Senate has been debating Sen. Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) amendment, http://c-span.org/pdf/Dorgan_admt120809.pdf, which would give Americans access to prescription drugs from other countries like Canada. The amendment offered has far reaching bi-partisan support, 19 sponsors and co-sponsors, but many on the floor and within the administration are highly critical due to the possibly endangerment to the United States medicine supply as well as being difficult to implement.

In a letter written by Margaret Hamburg, President Barack Obama's FDA commissioner, sent to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) stated that Sen. Dorgan's amendment, "as currently written, the resulting structure would be logistically challenging to implement and resource intensive. In addition, there were significant safety concerns" (http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/71307-fda-opposes-senate-drug-importation-amendmen). The same article notes that the Pharmaceutical industry is strongly opposed to the Dorgan Amendment as well, what a shock there as it would mean greater competitive forces thus reducing their bottom line while lowering drug costs to all Americans. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) spent several minutes on the Senate floor to express his concerns about "counterfeit Tamiflu" and other drugs because of how difficult it is to identify them. Sen. Menendez even echoed the concerns of express in the FDA letter.

Sen. Dorgan cited "a report from the Congressional Budget Office saying drug imports would result in savings of $19.4 billion over ten years by prodding manufacturers to lower domestic prices to compete with imported drugs" (http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Daily-Reports/2009/December/09/Afternoon-Update.aspx). On the surface the amendment makes sense since increase competition, based on economics 101, will drive down costs. Right now drug companies enjoy a protective market in the United States which enables it easier for them recoup research and development costs. The amendment requires importers and exporters to register and submit to random sampling of the drug being sent and on-site inspections of their production facilities. I can see where the inspections could become cumbersome but do we allow that to derail a process that will help lower the cost of prescription drugs?

Well if you are a member of Congress it will depend on who your donors are. Last night HBO re-aired the latest Robin Williams comedy show that was taped, ironically, in Washington D.C. Although I think he had used this joke before, he mentioned that lawmakers should don logos of their donors on their suits much like NASCAR does on their cars and driver suits. Although many laughed, it does make sense. Especially as we go through healthcare reform debate. The Senate will pick back up the debate today on the Dorgan Amendment that if passed would derail any back room deal President Obama and PHARMA ironed out months ago.

Now, if Congress can apply the same logic, being attempting to bring down drug costs through an increase in competition, to the health care reform debate in general we will all benefit. The next step is now for them to increase competition for health care insurance options beyond adding just one option. I called Sen. Klobuchar office yesterday as well to ask why more in the Senate are not applying basic supply/demand to health insurance competition by opening up state borders and removing the anti-trust exemption. It will be interesting today to see how the Dorgan Amendment plays out.