Big Pharma, 1; You and Me, 0: Forget low-cost drug imports

I’d like to thank the U.S. Senate for protecting me from the risk of tainted or otherwise harmful prescription drugs imported from other countries.

The Senate approved this week, 49-40, “a measure saying that imports will not be allowed unless the secretary of health and human services first certifies that they ‘pose no additional risk to the public’s health and safety,’ and that they will significantly reduce costs to consumers.” (NY Times story.)

I’d particularly like to thank Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. He cited a Times story about a toxic syrup imported from China that’s been implicated in poisoning deaths. Thankfully, Sen. Cochran and 48 other senatorial numbnuts voted to amend the original proposal to require certification of safety and savings from drugs imported from any country. (See the roll call vote.)

Never mind that the original bill, proposed by Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) only “would have allowed consumers, pharmacists, drug wholesalers and distributors to import prescription drugs from Canada, Japan, Australia and European countries found to have regulatory requirements comparable to those in the United States.” [Emphasis added.]

Never mind that Sen. Cochran could have proposed an amendment to specifically bar drug imports from China — or any other specific nation that did not meet U.S. regulatory standards.

Instead, Sen. Cochran sought to amend the bill with a sweeping certification requirement: The administration must certify any imported drug as safe and effective and able to provide savings to American consumers.

How likely is that the Bush administration — which has fought tooth and nail to prevent importation of low-cost drugs — will actually certify drugs from other countries as safe and effective? (Remember, this is the Bush administration that gave us the notorious Medicare drug benefit “doughnut hole”.)

So I’m grateful to Sen. Cochran. How nice of him to protect me from not only China but any other country whose drug manufacturing is safe and that exports drugs that are effective and cost less than the pharmaceutical and health products industry (a.k.a. Big Pharma) charges me here.

I’m sure protecting my well-being, if not my pocketbook, is Sen. Cochran’s only motive. I’m sure his certification amendment had nothing to do with the $71,000 he’s collected from Big Pharma over the past four election cycles.

In fact, using Federal Election Commission data aggregated by the Center for Responsive Politics, I found that Big Pharma has given $6,092,605 over the 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 election cycles to the senators who voted yes on this bill — a bill containing a certification amendment that makes it impossible for low-cost drugs to be imported. (That’s not counting the $404,503 Big Pharma gave to former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) in the 2006 cycle for his failed re-election bid).

That’s just these senators on this particular vote. In examining the influence of money on legislators, it’s not sufficient to look at one donation to one legislator on one issue. A longer perspective is needed to see the pattern.

Again, using CRP aggregated data for the 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 election cycles, I found that Big Pharma gave all senators over those eight years a total of $12,645,935.

Now, maybe $12 million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe that $12 million didn’t actually buy votes that benefited Big Pharma. But it sure does buy a lengthy attention span for Big Pharma’s pitch.

If you’d like to see the relative length of the senators’ attention spans, here they are. Those who voted yes are listed below with total take from Big Pharma over the four election cycles. The figures in parens are the number of election cycles for some who did not get money in all four cycles. Six-figure “takes” are in bold.

As you read this, you might end up thinking: “Efforts to allow importing low-cost drugs to make lifesaving drugs affordable to those who need them — let alone save American consumers money — doesn’t have a prayer.” Not as long as Big Pharma is on the case, year in and year out.

The Democrats:

Baucus, Mont. — $323, 221
Bayh, Ind. — $283,900

Cantwell, Wash. — $41,700 (3)
Carper, Del. — $159,314 (3)
Kennedy, Mass. — $328,700
Kerry, Mass. — $681,823

Lautenberg, N.J. — $9,750 (2)
Lincoln, Ark. — $164,620
Menendez, N.J. — $132,543 (1)

Mikulski, Md. — $60,424
Murray, Wash. — $110,599
Nelson, Neb. — $182,083

Rockefeller, W.Va. — $31,700
Salazar, Colo. — $7,500 (1)

The Republicans:

Alexander, Tenn. — $69,662 (2)
Bennett, Utah — $137,750
Bunning, Ky. — $93,366
Chambliss, Ga. — $34,999 (2)
Coburn, Okla. — $6,500 (1)
Cochran, Miss. — $71,000 (3)
Coleman, Minn. — $58,489 (2)
Corker, Tenn. — $0 (1)
Cornyn, Texas — $41,000 (2)
Crapo, Idaho — $64,830 (3)
Dole, N.C. — $22,000 (2)
Domenici, N.M. — $51,250
Enzi, Wyo. — $132,038
Graham, S.C. — $30,000 (2)
Gregg, N.H. — $198,000 (3)
Hagel, Neb. — $59,165
Hatch, Utah — $816,805
Hutchison, Texas — $36,850 (2)
Isakson, Ga. — $20,000 (1)
Kyl, Ariz. — $250,710
Lugar, Ind. — $162,210

Martinez, Fla. — $7,000 (1)
McConnell, Ky. — $94,500
Murkowski, Alaska — $56,500 (2)
Roberts, Kan. — $31,878
Spector, Pa. — $453,511
Stevens, Alaska — $29,250
Sununu, N.H. — $16,000 (2)
Thomas, Wyo. — $43,000
Voinovich, Ohio — $174,200
Warner, Va. — $37,320

The Independent

Lieberman, Conn. — $461,590

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xpost: 5th Estate

2 replies »

  1. We are at the mercy of bought politicians and a corporat-ocracy that will have its way no matter what the cost to the consumers – er – citizens of the United States.

    They don’t give a good goddam about the people who elect them.

  2. My father’s wife suffers from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis and her experimental drugs run her $23,000 a year… Their combined “income” from retirement/investments were over the cap for funding assistance. Always the pragmatists, they divorced* so she didn’t have to pay the full amount. How’s that for family values?

    Bring on that melamine tainted chicken!

    *By law only.