The prices of prescription drugs are up again. The numbers from 2016 show the price of brand name drugs increased by nearly 13% while specialty drugs increased by close to 8%. The aggregate rise is 8.77%. The consumer price index, used to measure inflation, rose only 2.1% overall in the same time period. PBMs and pharmaceutical makers are quick to point out that no one is actually paying full price for drugs due to negotiations and rebates. While that might true for a lot of people, many people pay high co-pays and premiums and those whose medications are not covered by insurance face high out of pocket expenses.
This is where the personal importation of prescription drugs comes in. But many opponents of personal importation say that its impact would be so minor that it wouldn’t help lower prices. That might be true, but then again, it’s not the point. The point of personal importation is to allow people who are having trouble affording their prescription drugs get the drugs they need, from a safe place, at a price they can afford. It is not, and never was intended, to have the secondary effect of forcing down prices in the US. There is not enough volume or demand to make that goal viable. However for those who need it, it is a life line. Opponents of importation ignore the trees for the forest. The number of people who make use of personal importation is smaller than those who don’t. Generally they’re more elderly and in lower income brackets. They’re the type of people that rich Washington lobby groups feel they can ignore with impunity.
The goal of opening personal importation to all Americans is not the following:
- Providing competition to force down drug prices in the US.
- Replacing local US pharmacies.
- Allowing unsafe drugs in the US.
Its sole goal is to permit Americans who cannot afford their prescription drugs locally to get them from other tier 1 countries where they are just as safe but less expensive. Personal importation is not the end solution to high drug prices; it is one solution amongst many that can be employed. It’s obvious most Americans would prefer drug manufacturers to simply lower the prices to an affordable level. However that’s unlikely to happen as we’ve seen. Drug companies cannot resist the impulse to pad their profit margins by raising prices. Until that ends Americans will continue to need the services of international pharmacies to help them get the medications they need.