San Francisco Chronicle Opinion Pieces Address Prescription Drug Reimportation
Two opinion pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday addressed the reimportation of lower-cost, U.S.-made prescription drugs and a bill (SB 1144) that would allow the state to reimport medications from Canada for Medi-Cal and other state health programs. The measure would allow the Department of General Services -- which purchases medications for state prisons, hospitals and agencies -- to reimport prescription drugs from Canada. However, the legislation would require the state to seek approval from the federal government. Supporters of the bill say that it could save the state $30 million per year (California Healthline, 5/25).
- Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco): Although the drug industry has shifted its argument against reimportation from safety issues to its possible harm to the biotechnology industry, the real threat to the industry would occur "if it allows itself to be used as the front for maintaining an out-of-whack system of pricing and profiteering," Burton, who sponsored the reimportation bill, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. The "modest" reimportation bill is not "going to break anyone," Burton states, citing a recent Boston University study suggesting that reimportation would ultimately help the pharmaceutical industry by causing more people who are not taking their medications promptly or properly to "become full consumers." Burton concludes that "public anger" over prescription drug prices is growing, and not "relieving this pressure could mean a forced solution down the road far less palatable than" SB 1144 (Burton, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/10).
- James Glassman: Reimportation would bring biotechnology innovation -- the "sacred cow" of the state's economy -- to a "grinding halt" and would reduce the $2.5 billion that the drug industry annually pays the state's biotech companies for research and development, Glassman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. Glassman cites a study published by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies that found that there would be between 330 and 365 fewer new medications on the market today if the United States had imposed price controls similar to those used in Canada from 1981 to 2002. Glassman concludes that the "short-term" savings from reimportation are "illusory" and would "destroy the state's biomedical industry, ... kill[ing] the goose that has been laying golden eggs for the Golden State" (Glassman, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/10).