Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Is It News To You That Politicians Speak Out Of Both Sides Of Their Mouths On Drug Reimportation?


The video clip above is an allegory-- a pop culture fantasy of how Bernie Sanders felt when fake liberal-- how did he not know?-- Cory Booker helped the Republican predators kill his drug reimportation bill, a bill killed by Cory and a dozen other Democrats putting their donors before their constituents. Matt Taibbi has been on fire lately. His newest Rolling Stone essay, Republicans and Democrats Continue to Block Drug Reimportation-- After Publicly Endorsing It, makes the not so subtle point that "the one true bipartisan instinct in Washington is caving to rich industries."

By taking such a loud and uncompromising stand on drug reimportation-- even personally bringing Vermont seniors up to Canada to show how its done-- Bernie Sanders forced both the horrible conservative presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and the far more horrible fascist presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to pretend they also favored drug reimportation. And as Taibbi pointed out, "Drug reimportation would be a no-brainer policy move if actual human beings ran our government. Disgust with high prescription drug prices is nearly universal-- 77 percent say drug prices are 'unreasonable'-- and 71 percent of respondents favor allowing the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada." 71%... that's a lot. Candidates win elections with far less. So what's the problem? Tabby explains:
The entire pharmaceutical industry is floated by a protectionist racket. Drugs that are in fact very cheap to make are kept artificially expensive-- we have drugs that cost $1,000 a pill here in America that sell for $4 in India, for instance.

The means of keeping prices high vary, but include lengthy patents to push production of generics into the future, the barring of foreign competition (usually on "safety" grounds), and the prohibition of negotiations to lower prices for bulk purchases by both the federal and state governments. Without government intervention, the pharmaceutical industry would be profitable, but it wouldn't be the massive cash factory it is now. In 2015, for instance, the 20 largest drug companies made a collective $124 billion in profits.

All the industry needs to protect those sums is the continued cooperation of Congress.

So naturally it spends money-- not a lot by industry standards, but a ton by the standards of the ludicrously cheap dates we call federal politicians-- to make sure they always have just enough dependable people in office to block change.

Which brings us back to drug importation. Trump announced early in the race that he was in favor of bringing in cheaper drugs from Canada and made it a big stump theme. I remember in New Hampshire last year listening to Trump ridicule Jeb Bush for having a Big Pharma honcho as his campaign finance chairman.

"The head of Johnson and Johnson [Woody Johnson] is Jeb Bush's top fundraiser," Trump crowed. "Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?"

Trump continued this theme throughout his candidacy. He said "allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options." Even after the election, in December, Trump sent pharma stocks tumbling when he vowed in Time to "bring down drug prices.

" The Democrats, meanwhile, put allowing importation of drugs from countries like Canada in their platform last summer. There were some ominous caveats in the language ("with appropriate safety protections"), but Clinton seemed to make bringing pharmaceutical prices down a priority in her rhetoric as the campaign progressed.

Along with scandals like the furor over drugmaker Mylan's EpiPen-- a lifesaving injection for sufferers of severe allergies, often children, that was being sold for an outrageous $630 a pop-- the seeming synergy of the two candidates' positions led to the hope that something might actually be done about the problem, no matter who won.

No such luck. Trump's support for drug importation basically went up in smoke from the moment he started filling out his executive appointees. Virtually every Trump nominee who would have influence over the importation question was bluntly opposed to the idea.

His FDA chief, Scott Gottlieb, was not only against importation, he'd written a Forbes editorial in 2016 denouncing then-candidate Trump's position on the issue. Trump's Health and Human Services chief, Tom Price, also has a long history of supporting pharmaceutical industry initiatives. Price's former press secretary, Ellen Carmichael, is now president of a political research firm called the Lafayette Company and just a few weeks ago was penning an anti-importation editorial reprinted by the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a leading industry group lobbying against reform.

Back in January, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar introduced an amendment to a budget resolution that would have paved the way for drug importation. Twelve Republicans, including John McCain, Rand Paul and Lisa Murkowski, voted for it. But the measure died when thirteen Democrats voted no.
I don't want to offend any anti-purity snowflakes who accidentally wandered over to this blog, but the 13 Democrats who should be tarred and feathered and run out of Washington are corrupt shit-heads
Michael Bennet (CO)- $533,967
Cory Booker (NJ)- $392,267
Maria Cantwell (WA)- $176,305
Tom Carper (NJ)- $487,324
Bob Casey (PA)- $706,435
Chris Coons (DE)- $291,700
Joe Donnelly (IN)- $297,067
Martin Heinrich (NM)- $193,579
Heidi Heitkamp (ND)- $95,564
Bob Menendez (NJ)- $809,900
Patty Murray (WA)- $906,146
Jon Tester (MT)- $199,750
John Warner (VA)- $319,700
The dollar figure next to their names are-- you guessed it-- the amount in bribery, disguised as "contributions," they have taken from drug companies since being elected to federal office. The Democrats all claim to be worried about poisons but the only poison any of them are worried about is the poison of dark money corrupting our political system and the fear Big PhRMA will shut off the spigot to their own accounts.
A Coons spokesperson said the Sanders-Klobuchar amendment "didn't meet the safety standards he believes are necessary." Booker said he wanted to "ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards." And so on.

But we already do import foreign drugs, and have an established safety certification process. In fact, an astonishing 40 percent of all pharmaceuticals sold in the United States are already imported, as are 80 percent of the chemical ingredients. These imported drugs and drug ingredients arrive by way of more than 300,000 foreign food and drug manufacturing facilities that are regularly certified as safe by the FDA.

These drugs come from manufacturing facilities not just in Canada but across the globe, from the first world to the third, sometimes using the same kind of degraded and underpaid labor forces we bemoan in other industries.

The only difference is that at the moment, the only entities that are allowed to benefit from these foreign imports are drug companies. The important ban only applies to pharmacists and consumers.

That's why the pharmaceutical industry works so tirelessly to keep Congress captured. It's not just to protect its many forms of federal subsidy, but also to keep customers and retailers from benefitting from the same money-saving overseas shopping in which they engage.

...[On May 11] Sanders, along with co-sponsors Elizabeth Warren and Robert Casey, offered an amendment to the user-fee bill that would have allowed for importation of drugs from FDA-approved facilities in Canada. As Casey pointed out in committee, the amendment is laden with protections, requiring patients to have valid Canadian prescriptions, allowing the FDA to shut down bad actors, etc.

Once again, Democratic discipline broke down. The amendment this time was beaten in committee, 13-10. Two Democrats, Patty Murray and Michael Bennet, both of whom accept a lot of pharmaceutical money, voted no.

Interestingly, two Republicans from states bordering Canada who voted for almost exactly the same measure earlier in the year-- Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine-- now voted no as well.

...The history of what's happened with drug importation in the last year is a classic example of how American politics works. Politicians in both parties endorse ideas they know are popular, and often get themselves elected on the strength of them.

But once the ideas get into the weeds of Congress, there are a million tricks that can be employed to keep business flowing as usual while giving politicians political cover. A year ago, it looked like we had a good shot at ramping back this vicious predatory practice of overpricing life-saving drugs. Today, absent a major public uproar, it looks like the idea will have to wait quite a while longer. And people wonder why Congress is so unpopular.
In a note from Dr. David Gill, the progressive running against knee-jerk Republican Rodney Davis in a sprawling downstate Illinois district, he told me, "By no means am I offended by your pointing out the incredible sums of money taken by members of Congress from the pharmaceutical industry. No, what offends me is the fact that they do take it, and that they then turn around and protect the drug manufacturers from reasonable legislation such as drug reimportation. It's a tragic shame that reimportation should even be necessary here in America. It's astounding that the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill passed under George W. Bush actually BARRED us from negotiating on drug prices for seniors; we would have had tremendous bargaining power, given the millions of seniors enrolled in the program. And of course the failure to move forward with Single Payer, as I've long advocated as a 25 year member of Physicians for a National Health Program, has also left us in this current situation in which seniors have to choose between taking their medicines and eating food. Many are the days in the E.R. when I feel as though I live in a third world country. Before I write any prescription, I have to have 'the talk' with my patients: I have to ask about their ability to pay for the prescription, and, if necessary, go to Plan B or Plan C, or Plan D. It doesn't have to be this way forever. When we have a Congress that doesn't bow down before their corporate benefactors, it will no longer be this way."

Watch Ro Khanna making his maiden speech on the floor of Congress. It was about drug reimportation and he told his collegeues that "the pharmaceutical industry is a cancer on this body; the pharmaceutical companies contributions are a cancer."

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At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're at the wrong end of the alimentary canal.

John Puma

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, paying attention to what they SAY and giving them all a pass on what they fucking DO! (analogous to JP's meme, "what they say is not what they doo doo".

When voters stopped punishing betrayal, corruption and pure evil, we started on this vector. I'd say re-electing Nixon was pretty plainly proof the electorate stopped all paying attention.

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are our corporate people when we need them to fight back? Why aren't they incensed that GWB gave bigpharma license to gouge the public on a high priority item, thereby cutting into their profits?

When 2 or 3 industries are allowed by our government to steal most of what Americans earn & their savings, it has a deadening effect on a community. It constricts local economies when people have less disposable income. It puts an undue burden on individuals & families who must purchase costly medicines.

So what's the sense (OK, none) of having corporate people, superpowerful peeps, at that, if the entertainment, restaurant, recreation, travel, hotel people can't take on the big pharma, healthcare, housing market, & energy people to break up their near monopoly on the collective purse of the nation? Clearly Obama, now Trump wasn't/isn't up to it.

At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to make a small correction: Carper is from Delaware, not NJ.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Peter said...

Ro Khanna made a vaguely progressive-sounding speech on healthcare? So did Barack Obama, many times, before cutting secret backroom deals with Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Device, and Big Hospital, stabbing single-payer in the back, twisting the knife, and rubbing feces into the wound. Never take anything a politician says at face value. Ever. Most especially from a Democrat who is pretending to be progressive. And Ro Khanna is almost certainly a case in point:

Scott Creighton, "Neoliberal Silicon Valley Owned Rep. Rohit Khanna (D-CA) is the New 'Alternative' Pied Piper of the Corporate Left," American Everyman, 14 May 2017, https://goo.gl/f8tuj3 (https://willyloman.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/neoliberal-silicon-valley-owned-rep-rohit-khanna-d-ca-is-the-new-alternative-pied-piper-of-the-corporate-left/)

We need to learn to spot future Barack Obamas -- future traitors -- in real time, before it's too late.


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