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Commentary

Californians Should Reject Drug Importation
Tommy G. Thompson, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 1-19-06

Thompson, former HHS secretary, argues that California politicians who endorse drug importation as a way to help contain health care costs are ignoring the advent of Medicare Part D—and important safety concerns.

Recently, certain state officials, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have argued that drug importation is the pathway to achieve lower health care costs. With all due respect, I would argue that importation has largely become a solution in search of a problem. The establishment and implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit has provided our nation's seniors with access to affordable, safe and effective drugs, without looking beyond our borders. At least with regard to our seniors – by far, the largest group of consumers for prescription drugs – the debate on importation should now be moot. …
Importation is about more than just price. There are also safety concerns that implicate all consumers, not just Medicare beneficiaries. Simply because the return address says Canada does not mean the drugs are safe – or even that they are in fact from Canada. Reviews by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have shown that few drugs advertised as "Canadian" have been inspected under the Canadian drug regulatory process. Indeed, FDA inspections have consistently found that a significant percentage of drugs advertised as "Canadian" actually come from other countries.

Whatever arguments or debates we may have about the Medicare drug benefit going forward, Thompson is certainly correct that importation is a “solution in search of a problem.” By distracting attention from reforming health care as a whole (after all, drug prices are only about 11% of total health care spending), importation distracts us from more important and more critical reforms, like lowering the cost of health insurance.



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