I noticed a recent letter to the editor of The Hill from Congressman Anne M. Northup, arguing that the importation of drugs subject to foreign price controls would be consistent with both safety and patent protection. (Yes, Ms. Northup is a woman; “Congressman” is a title and not a description.) She is incorrect in both dimensions because she ignores the implications of foreign price controls on pharmaceuticals. As it would be very difficult to monitor the shipments, reverse shipments, cross shipments, and other machinations to which the legalized importation of drugs would give rise, pharmaceuticals purportedly imported from, say, Germany, in fact would carry a real risk of actual production almost anywhere. North Korea and Pakistan come to mind. And there is no need to speculate about this: The recent discovery of thousands of doses of counterfeit Lipitor in the UK is only the latest example of the fake drugs about which we know. Moreover, the foreign price controls are forced upon the pharmaceutical firms by governments threatening to confiscate patents; it is Orwellian, to say the least, for Northup and others to argue that only “patent-protected” drugs would be imported.
Northup and others argue that the importation of pharmaceuticals subject to price controls would be a manifestation of “free trade.” Please. That is analogous to an argument that the purchase of stolen merchandise from the back of a truck is “free enterprise.” It is the effort of foreign governments to use price controls to obtain free rides on the research and development costs borne by U.S. consumers that is the real problem; the importation of foreign price controls will merely reduce future cures in favor of present wealth transfers. Sadly, Northup is concerned above all with present voters.