Oh Canada! There is no Santa Claus to the north giving out cheap drugs to US patients
This morning HHS Secretary Alex Azar took another step toward opening the door to drugs imported from Canada. The still-developing policy initiatives pave the way to getting states to set up programs for importing less expensive drugs, as well as setting up a path for drugmakers to bring in therapies sold abroad.
With less than a year to go to the election, you could say President Donald Trump has a vested interest in cuffing the biopharma industry — as he promised from the start — before he goes back to voters selling 4 more years in the White House.
But let’s get real here. Anyone who thinks you can outsource the drug pricing issue to Canada, and get them to act as a proxy for the American market, has got to be dreaming.
I’m not going into the safety issue, the way lobbyists want to when it comes to drug importation. If you stick with reputable distributors in Canada, there won’t be a safety issue. This argument is about money, and that’s where we need to focus.
I’ve had serious conversations with senior pharma execs who appear perfectly willing to sacrifice European revenue if necessary in order to safeguard their all-important US markets. What do you think these pharma companies would do with their small Canadian marketing ops if they threatened US profit margins?
If a Canadian negotiator is standing in as a substitute to represent state markets in the US, their drug prices are going to go sky high or their supply will be curtailed. And Canada is not going to allow that. Once the supply of a single drug is crimped, the hue and cry in that country would be immense. They want to preserve lower prices and access for Canadians, not go on some crusade to extend that to the US. And if global pharma players can’t rein in a rogue operation, what happens to the contracts they rely on to do business?
Interestingly, the New York Times report on the policy development today says a 2003 law won’t even allow for importation of high-priced biologics like Humira — the thorn in the side of lawmakers. AbbVie jacked up that price year after year to create a cash cow it relied on to get them to the next chapter — which turned out to be the Allergan buyout. And Canada can’t help.
This is a non-starter. It always has been for the 20 years it’s been debated. Yet it remains a spotlight issue, underscoring the paucity of new ideas when it comes to the much-needed task of reforming the pricing system in the US. Drug affordability and access is a huge issue in the US, where large groups of patients can’t afford their end of the bill. Let’s not trivialize the crisis by promising a solution from Canada that will never come.
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