Mona Charen

Another gem the Republicans are not opposing -- in fact, many are supporting -- is the drug reimportation proposal. This is the brainchild of some congressmen who looked at lower drug prices in Canada and elsewhere, and declared, "Hey, no fair." If this bill becomes law, Americans will be able to import American-made drugs from Canada and other nations, and thus enjoy lower prices.

But there's a worm in this beautiful apple. Canada and Europe enjoy low drug prices because their governments put price caps on drugs. Those consumers are, as the American Enterprise Institute's John Calfee explains in The Weekly Standard, "free riders" on our system. The United States is the only market in which drug manufacturers make a profit. That's why European pharmaceutical firms are flocking to America. In 2000, U.S.-based firms spent 24 billion euros on research and development, compared with 17 billion euros for European firms. (Europe has a larger population and greater total wealth than the United States.) Fifteen of the top 20 best-selling drugs worldwide are made in the United States.

It costs money, lots of it, to create new medicines. Of every 10,000 substances considered as new drugs, only 250 make it to animal testing. Only five are tested on humans. And only one gets FDA approval. People gripe about the cost of drugs, but the medical costs they save are hardly taken into account. A family member had a stomach ulcer a number of years ago. Before the drug Prilosec was available, people lost countless days of work, had costly and painful surgeries, and even died from stomach ulcers. Now, they take a pill for a few weeks and that's it. Cured. That's one example among millions. It is estimated that half of the extension in life expectancy experienced between 1971 and 1991 was due to new drugs.

Reimportation would result in one of two unintended outcomes: either prices would not drop because drug companies would decline to ship huge quantities of drugs to places like Canada, or worse, prices would drop and companies would stop research and development.

Time was, Republicans understood these things.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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