As We See It
Congress Recognizes the Prescription Drug ProblemAugust 2000
By William Faloon
IN THE 1980s, THE LIFE EXTENSION Foundation launched a media blitz to inform the public that Americans were overpaying for their prescription drugs compared to what the same drugs cost in other countries. The Foundation ran full- page newspaper ads attacking the FDA for allowing this situation to occur, appeared on national television/radio programs to explain the magnitude of this problem, and established The FDA Museum to document that Americans were paying much more for identical drugs compared to citizens of Europe, Canada, etc.
As is the case with most new concepts, few people paid much attention to The Foundation's early warning of the dire consequences that would occur if the FDA continued to deny Americans access to lower cost medications. The Foundation predicted that if the FDA's monopolistic control over the drug industry was not abated, many people would no longer be able to afford their prescription medications and that health insurance premiums would skyrocket. What The Foundation predicted 15 years ago has become economic reality today.
The disparity between drug prices in the United States and those of other countries has now grown so large, that the mainstream media has picked up the issue and it has become one of the hottest political topics on Capital Hill.
In late 1999, a bill (HR 3240) was introduced into the House of Representatives that would allow Americans to purchase FDA-approved drugs from pharmacies anywhere in the world. As a growing number of constituents have written their House members urging them to support this bill, more Representatives are joining as cosponsors.
The good news is that the Senate has introduced its own companion bill that would enable Americans to purchase identical prescription drugs from offshore pharmacies at a fraction of prices being charged today. This bill (S 2520) is significant because it is being backed by key Republicans, in addition to Democrats. According to the Wall Street Journal (May 10, 2000), Republicans in the past have protected the domestic pharmaceutical industry, but "heavy pressure from constituents" is forcing them to deal with the high cost of prescription drugs.
The Senate bill would allow American pharmacists, wholesalers and individuals to purchase FDA-approved drugs, made at FDA-approved manufacturing plants from anywhere in the world. The savings to the consumer would be enormous, and for the first time, drug companies would have to compete in a real free market environment.
Not everyone agrees with us
While every politician acknowledges there is a health care crisis fueled by inflated prescription drug prices, there is a debate as to how to best remedy this problem. Some politicians are proposing that Medicare pay for prescription drugs, which amounts to nothing more than a taxpayer subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry.
The problem with tax dollars being used to pay for prescription drugs is the inevitable waste, mismanagement and fraud that occurs when government bureaucracies try to regulate the marketplace. Right now, the Federal government is litigating against some large drug companies after finding that Medicare and Medicaid sharply overpaid for dozens of drugs. Government officials are seeking billions of dollars in restitution based on their contention that these drug companies induced Medicare and Medicaid to pay inflated prices for the drugs. Here is one startling example of what happens when the government involves itself with the free market:
The nutrient N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is sold a prescription drug to be delivered as an inhaler to treat certain pulmonary problems. It is also approved as a drug to suppress the free radical damage that occurs to the liver in the case of acetaminophen (Tylenol ®) overdose. Here are the price differences between the free market price and what Medicare has been reimbursing for the NAC drug:
40¢ - Health food store retail price for 1 gram of N-acetyl-cysteine
$5.05 - What Medicare pays for 1 gram of N-acetyl-cysteine
As you can see, in the free market environment, there would be no health care crisis since the cost of prescription drugs would amount to nothing more than pocket change, whereas the proposal to let Medicare subsidize drug costs results in the government overpaying for what the patient could purchase on their own. One reason drugs are so overpriced is that the FDA is blocking importations of the much lower priced identical drugs from other countries. We have discussed other reasons in past issues of LIFE EXTENSION as to why FDA overregulation causes drugs to cost so much, while at the same time hindering the development of life saving therapies.
In this issue we provided form letters (House and Senate) for members to send to their Representative and two Senators. The letters urge them to support the two bills in Congress that would give Americans access to lower cost drugs from other countries that are identical to FDA-approved drugs being sold in the United States at outrageously inflated prices.
Can you trust the media with your life?
If you depend on the news media for accurate medical information, your health could be at serious risk.
On April 21, 2000, the news media disseminated a story that linked high vitamin B6 intake with increased ulcerative colitis risk.1 The problem with this report was that it looked at intakes of vitamin B6 that were so low, that the results had no correlation to what vitamin supplement takers actually consume. This study showed that in The Netherlands, ulcerative colitis patients consumed an average of 5.06 mg of vitamin B6 a day compared to 3.57 mg a day for healthy controls. In this study, the difference between healthy controls and those with ulcerative colitis was only 1.5 mg of B6. The media used this meaningless number to create a hyped story that those with ulcerative colitis had a "significantly greater intake of vitamin B6." In this case, "significantly greater" as defined by the media turned out to be 1.5 mg of vitamin B6. This infinitesimal amount of B6 could not possibly have an effect on ulcerative colitis risk.
Millions of serious vitamin consumers take 50 to 500 mg a day of vitamin B6. If B6 intake had any relationship to ulcerative colitis, there would be an epidemic of ulcerative colitis amongst supplement users, which is not the case.
Those who have read the scientific literature know that vitamin B6 is involved in multiple enzymatic reactions necessary to sustain life, and that higher doses (50 to 500 mg a day) of B6 dramatically lowers toxic homocysteine levels. The unfortunate masses who rely on the news media for medical information may avoid high-dose vitamin B6 supplementation, and the very real epidemic of cardiovascular disease will continue.
This issue of LIFE EXTENSION features an extensive expose on how the Federal government and the media continue to distort the findings of scientific studies for the purpose of discrediting the use of vitamin supplements.
- American Journal of Gastroenterology (2000;95:1008-1013)