Cheaper Is Not Better

Sally Pipes, a Canadian citizen, has an interesting piece in The Washington Post on why Canada’s socialist prescription drug system is no model to emulate.

There’s an irony here. While Americans are flocking to Canada to get inexpensive drugs, Canadians have for years been going in the opposite direction, desperately seeking new and necessary medicines that they can only obtain in the United States. They’re willingly paying top-dollar for them, out of their own pockets.

A friend of mine in New Brunswick, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes, is a case in point. He found that Glucophage XR, an oral blood-sugar-control medication from the U.S. manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb that his doctor was able to obtain in small amounts, was the most effective drug for him. But it isn’t available in New Brunswick. So he has to travel to Bangor, Maine, about four and a half hours’ drive away, to get it.

The fact is that Canada’s restrictive and bureaucratic system denies Canadians the kind of lifesaving treatments that Americans have access to. The Canadian system may be nominally cheaper for common drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex, but drugs for less common diseases or newer drugs are simply unavailable.

Dennis Morrice is CEO of Canada’s Arthritis Society and co-chair of Canada’s Best Medicines Coalition, a group founded two years ago to ensure that patients get the drugs they need. According to Morrice, some 4 million Canadians suffer from some form of arthritis, the largest cause of long-term disability in Canada. Yet highly effective drugs such as Enbrel and Remicade, long available to patients in the States, may or may not be available to Canadians, depending on which province they live in. As recently as 2002, only two provinces — Saskatchewan and Ontario — listed the drugs. Says Morrice, "Many people still can’t get them."

Stories like this are all too common. Many Canadian cancer patients find that chemotherapy drugs that are commonly available in the United States are not available, forcing them to either seek treatment in the US or simply die – including the author’s own uncle.

The Canadian system of socialized health care is being exploited by American politicans in order to provide cheaper drugs for a few at the expense of the health of the pharmaceutical industry and many Canadians:

In the battle over whether to purchase drugs from Canada for U.S. citizens, all that supporters see are the potential savings to their constituents. Says Blagojevich, "I am optimistic we will be able to save literally millions of dollars for the taxpayers." But there’s more to the issue than that. Even if we leave aside the costs to America’s Canadian neighbors, who look at the wealth of medications available to Americans with envy and longing, there’s the very real prospect that the politicians’ scramble to get cheap drugs from next door can backfire on Americans in the long run.

Most drug manufacturers can afford to sell their pills to smaller customers like Canada (which has only 33 million citizens) at discounted prices and make a lower profit, but selling them to everyone at these prices, which are well below the average cost of production of a new medication, would be prohibitive. It would mean, in effect, that drug companies would have no motivation to research and develop ever newer and better drugs. The losers in that case? Both Americans and Canadians — not to mention the rest of the world.

Such a plan would ensure that drugs that are not profitable – such as treatments for diseases like AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease and others will simply not be made. Some seniors will get their Celebrex at cheaper prices, but the hidden costs will the lives of many Americans and Canadians who will suffer because of a lack of treatments. Prescription drug reimportation is simply bad medicine.

3 thoughts on “Cheaper Is Not Better

  1. The American health care system is imploding in front of our very eyes and is one of the primary factors why the alleged “economic recovery” is certain to be a jobless one as far as the eye can see. If you’re gonna continue throwing rocks from your glass house, you better start doing so from an armor-plated suit.

  2. Mark can reply to this in nothing but invective, it seems. Socialized health care is bad juju, any way one looks at it, and it is among the issues that I must break from my party with. Nothing will more quickly deflate all significant work being done in potential disease fighting, life extension, and genetic enhancement technologies than implementing a Canadian style health care plan.

  3. Every sign indicates that our employer-funded health care system is on the verge of complete collapse. Fewer employers will (or rather already are) offer health care plans as part of their employment package, while the extra cost burden of privately financing employee health care is accelerating the pace of job defection overseas. I agree that the Canada/European health care system is far from perfect, but you have to acknowledge that the current system is broken and is in desperate need of fixing before it plunges the nation into a prolonged recession with decades of flat job growth.

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