Editorial on Fighting Big Pharma

Here’s an op-ed by Senator Bernard Sanders, who is — for good reasons — the most popular political figure in the U.S. today. While he mentions important statistics, it would have been better if he also mentioned drug patent monopolies. The American pharmaceutical industry is among the most powerful groups in history, and so defeating them will of course require a lot more than passing a bill allowing the importation of drugs from Canada.

The American people are sick and tired of getting ripped off by the pharmaceutical industry which, next to Wall Street, is one of the most powerful and greedy forces in our country.

Each and every day my office hears from Americans who cannot afford their prescription drugs. People are having to choose between buying food or buying the medicine they need. Seniors are forced to split their pills in half. Some have lost their homes and declared bankruptcy because of their medical bills.

Others are getting much sicker than they should because of these outrageously high prices. One woman said that her family couldn’t sleep in their car after losing their house because they had to sell the car, and her wedding ring, just to pay for their prescription drugs.

Today, the American people are starting to ask the questions that need to be asked:

Why is it that the United States pays, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?

In the richest country in the history of the world, why is it that nearly one out of five adults in America cannot afford to fill the prescriptions given to them by their doctors?

How can it be that Americans can walk into a drugstore and find that the prices they are paying for their prescription drugs can double, triple or quadruple, literally overnight?

How is it that in Canada the same medications manufactured by the same companies, sold in the same bottles, are available for a fraction of the price that we pay in the United States?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is simple: Follow the money.

Since 1998, the pharmaceutical industry has spent more than $3 billion on lobbying, and they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign contributions to buy politicians. In 2016, they hired 1,380 lobbyists – nearly 14 for each member of the Senate – to get Congress to do their bidding.

Last year, the big drug companies spent $131 million alone to defeat a ballot initiative in California that would have required the state to pay no more than what the Veterans Administration pays for prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, as Americans are dying because they cannot afford the medications they need, the five largest drug companies in the U.S. made over $50 billion in profits in 2015, and the top ten pharmaceutical industry CEOs made $327 million in total compensation.


The former CEO of Gilead (John Martin) became a billionaire because his drug company charged $1,000 a pill for Sovaldi, a Hepatitis-C drug that costs $1 to manufacture. In India, the same drug can be bought for just four bucks.

Today, pharmaceutical companies are substantially increasing their profits because Congress has done nothing to stop them. Their only goal is to make as much profit as possible. They could care less about the American people.

To address this crisis, I introduced the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act with Rep. Elijah Cummings and Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Casey. If passed, our legislation would allow individuals, pharmacists and wholesalers to purchase low-cost medicine from Canada and other countries. Not only would it save lives, but according to the Congressional Budget Office, it would save the U.S. government more than $6 billion over the next decade.

Needless to say, the prescription drug companies and their allies are doing everything they can to defeat this legislation.

They are running TV commercials in 13 states and bought full-page ads in newspapers including The Washington Post against this bill. And they have paid academic “experts” hundreds of thousands of dollars to spread myths in popular news outlets about low-cost drugs from Canada being unsafe.

Nonsense. Let’s be clear. This debate is not about the safety of prescription drugs. Nobody in Congress would vote for one second to allow unsafe medicine to come into this country. Rather, our legislation includes strong safety standards and cracks down on rogue, online pharmacies illegally selling counterfeit prescription drugs.

No, what this debate is all about is whether Congress will have the courage to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and lower the outrageously high prices the American people are paying for the medicine they need.

There is no rational reason why in the United States a 90-day supply of Crestor – the cholesterol-lowering drug – costs $779, but just $201 in Canada. Or why Januvia, which treats diabetes, costs $1,126 dollars in the United States, but just $369 dollars in Canada. Or why Abilify, a drug for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, costs about $546 in Canada, but $2,800 dollars in our country.

The truth is that today prescription drug companies are able to legally import 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients, and 40 percent of prescription drugs from other countries. The only thing that is illegal is allowing the American people to take advantage of the lower prices these countries charge for prescription drugs. That has got to change.

The idea of importing safe and affordable prescription drugs is popular among the overwhelming majority of Americans. According to a 2016 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72 percent favor allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs imported from Canada.

Our bill makes it possible for them to do that, both cheaply and safely. Lowering the cost of prescription drugs may eat into the profits of the big drug companies, but for millions of Americans, it will alleviate suffering and save lives.