Is it possible that Big Pharma will lose this battle over drug prices? It’s Biden’s turn to speak.
The Daily Poster and I collaborated on this story.
When I was the press secretary for then-Congressman Bernie Sanders, I rode a bus with him and a group of elders looking for lower-cost prescription medications in Canadian pharmacies more than 20 years ago. The bus travels were part of our effort to bring attention to the pharmaceutical business, which charges American consumers the highest costs for medicine in the world—and shortly after, another candidate I worked for, Brian Schweitzer, began organizing similar bus tours. It grew into a national news-grabbing crusade.
Sanders’ campaign was a success—until it was derailed by Bill Clinton. Despite the pharmaceutical industry’s well-funded opposition, the Vermont lawmaker’s campaign helped pass legislation in the Republican Congress that would have allowed Americans to import lower-cost prescription drugs from other industrialized countries, just as Europe has done safely to help lower prices.
However, in the closing weeks of Clinton’s presidency, Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, with the president’s approval, effectively vetoed the importation scheme, choosing not to execute it. Shalala did so by repeating drug companies’ shamelessly dishonest safety argument, which claims that, despite the fact that drug corporations routinely import medicine—and that other nations have established safe parallel importation programs—importation will damage American consumers. She also asserted that it would not be cost-effective.
This episode serves as a cautionary tale regarding the pharmaceutical lobby’s and drugmakers’ ability to influence legislation at the expense of consumers through enormous campaign contributions and legions of lobbyists.
This business has used its political clout to entrench a paradox in our trade laws, despite the fact that it frequently preaches the benefits of free trade. Drug firms are now allowed to manufacture pharmaceuticals in other countries and then import them for sale in the United States at inflated costs—all while trade regulations prevent American customers, wholesalers, and pharmacists from engaging in the same cross-border importation that may lower prices.
But, two decades later, there may finally be some good news: While massively profitable drugmakers continue to raise medicine prices, there may be some good news: Big Pharma is on the verge of losing this similar battle after Sanders resurrected the bus trips for his 2020 presidential campaign. And now the Biden administration is in a position to make a significant contribution. This is a condensed version of the information.