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April 18, 2006
There Is a Tide. . .
Looking back through the archives, I see that two or three years ago I spent a lot more time than I do now on the issues of drug reimportation and the industry's ability (or lack of it) to deal with Congress. I haven't written about these topics for a while, and by golly, there's a reason:
"After years of pumping millions of dollars into election campaigns, the pharmaceutical industry is reaping the benefits of a vastly improved political climate on Capitol Hill.
The increases in donations have moderated since the last decade as the industry has won passage of long-cherished legislative objectives or fended off challenges that it deemed a threat to its way of doing business.
In the last year, drug companies have won protection from lawsuits involving production of a pandemic flu vaccine. They have been invited to join President Bush in mapping a government strategy to fight a pandemic and have been sought out to assist in producing vaccines against flu and bioterrorism.
At the same time, legislative measures aimed at the industry - notably, bills that would permit importing cheaper prescription drugs from abroad - appear stalled, with little likelihood they will come up soon. . ."
The article goes on to say that the 2004 increases in drug prices (8.4%) were the lowest since 1982, a fact that seems to have been very slightly underreported. It also makes much of the passage of the Medicare drug benefit, which is something that I'm still quite ambivalent on. The provision which prohibits selection based on price worries me, since I'd rather have pricing signals than not. Of course, the flip side of that is that negotiating with Medicare would be a real Godzilla-versus-Megalon situation, and I worry that allowing the program to negotiate prices on individual drugs would be a backdoor route to general price controls. A middle ground would be allowing price discrimination between drugs in the same therapeutic category - just like private insurance does.
On the larger scale, part of this easing of the pressure on the drug industry is probably just other issues (Iraq, energy prices) coming along to take up the slack. Political outrage obeys conservation laws just like anything else. Somehow, I don't think it's safe to put the clip-on horns back in the costume box just yet.
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