Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Truly a Poison Pill

"Well, once again the big drug companies have proved that they are the most powerful and best-financed lobby in Washington [DC]."

Sounds like a snippet from Randi Rhodes, maybe? Or that ultra-Liberal Thom Hartmann. Nope. That was from Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, quoted in an AP article on May 8.

He's referring to an amendment to a bill that would have allowed US consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries, often at significantly lower costs. The amendment, in other words, effectively rendered the bill useless. Never a more poignant, vicious appropriateness for the political jargon, "poison pill amendment."

The bill, thus neutered, was defeated 49-40. And everybody took their payoffs and went home happy. Except, of course, the American healthcare consumers, who continue to be screwed by astronomical pharmaceutical costs.

And what was the rationale for amending this bill? What was wrong with trying to give the elderly, people with diabetes, MS, Parkinson's, ALS, migraines, AIDS, or cancer some sort of relief from their medical bills without even touching the complicated idiocy of the American Healthcare System in general?

What's the objection to trying to make the medication a little cheaper for people who can barely afford it anyway--even with their meager insurance coverage? What did the "amendment" accomplish?

Why, safety, of course. Yes, Senator Mike Enzi (R) Wyoming) suddenly became concerned for the general welfare of every American and insisted that every drug entering the country from these unsavory, untrustable countries undergo a rigorous safety certification inspection. And if they don't do as we wish, we, as the arbiter of safety and security for the industrialized world, should not do business with them. Miraculously, the amendment was added to the bill, thus killing it.

In theory, a safety inspection on pharmaceuticals is a good thing. That's why, I presume, we here in the US have the FDA. We don't want everybody in a basement with a pill press and chalk to be called a pharmacy. Nor should we blindly accept boxes of pills and syrups from Jimbo's Drug Hut in Burnaby, delivered via retired school bus.

But here's where Enzi's plea for safety becomes absurd. The countries in question are not Third World hellholes with questionable drug policies, run by drug lords and thugs. We are talking specifically about importing drugs from Japan, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

I know we're the best at everything, but can't we give other countries (and continents, for cryin' out loud) some credit for having schools, pharmacies, doctors, and--what the hell--governments, too?

Might these entities not have their own counterparts to the FDA and maybe regulate their own pharmaceutical industries? Crazy talk, I know, but I poked around on the Internets, and I found out that Europe has the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency; Canada boasts Health Canada; Japan checks in with their Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare; Australia has the Therapeutic Goods Administration; and New Zealand brings up the rear with New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority, or MedSafe (but soon, those last two will soon merge to form the Australia New Zealand Therapeutic Products Authority, or ANZTPA).

Go to these Web sites. Do they look like they were thrown together by lesser folk than anybody than at the FDA? Do you hear any more or less scandal going on in these agencies?

It is not only insulting to every American's intelligence to be treated as if we can't see through an idiotic, yet greedy ruse like this, it's also insulting to the countries we've just dismissed as incapable of properly regulating their pharmaceutical industry (as ours goes completely nuts).

So, with Mike Enzi's help, Big Pharma wins another round, and a bunch of billionaires keep their string of victories alive. Meanwhile, the US cements its position as the most expensive country in the world in terms of healthcare, people still can't afford the medicine they need, and our status as world citizen takes another hit. Thanks, guys.

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