Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

  • by: |
  • 11/19/2007
Here’s a headline right out of 2004:

“McCain Calls for Drug Reimportation”

According to an AP report, Senator John McCain said he wants to again allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada as a way to bring health care costs under control.

The Arizona senator, speaking to reporters about a mile from the Canadian border and just across the river from New Hampshire, said too much of health care costs are based on high drug prices.

"If we are going to control health care cost, we need to control the rising costs of pharmaceuticals," McCain said.

Except that’s not true. Drug costs represent about 11.5% of the American health care spend. Hospital costs represent over 30%. What’s a better bargain: time spent in the hospital, or drugs that keep Americans healthy and productive?

That’s a good question to ask Senator McCain during the next debate.

The Senator also blamed drug costs for rising insurance premiums.

That’s also not true. Consider this, from 1998 to 2003; insurance companies increased their premiums by an average of $104.62 per person. During that same time period prescription-drug costs increased by $22.48.

Are the majority of Americans with private health insurance spending more for drugs? Yes — because their insurance companies are paying less. In 2000, people under 65 with private health insurance paid 37.2 percent of the cost of their prescription drugs costs out of their own pockets. (Not surprisingly, this leads many Americans to believe that their increased out-of-pocket expenses are because of higher drug costs.) The truth is that the growth in prescription-drug co-payments outpaced the growth rate of prescription drug prices four to one.

"These are drugs being reimported. They go to Canada and then they can come back in. It's a strawman to say that a country like Canada could not be responsible for safe drugs to be brought into our country. Many of them are manufactured in Canada, as you know," he said.

Yep – heard that one before. And very untrue. The drugs that are being sold to Americans by Canadian internet pharmacies come from the EU – and are not even legal for sale in Canada. The McCain scheme (it cannot really be called a “plan”) would not provide Americans with the “same drugs Canadians get.” That’s just a fact. What we would get are drugs from all the nations of the EU – the UK as well as Latvia; France as well as Portugal -- with no real quality control or reliable chain of custody. And if you don’t believe this causes safety problems, just ask the folks over at the MHRA.

The hard fact, Senator McCain, is that there is no such thing as “Canada-only re-importation.” It’s just a snake-oil soundbite.

And, for a guy who positions himself as the no BS candidate, we expect better.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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