For the last six months, U.S. Senate candidate Brian Schweitzer has been lambasting the pharmaceutical industry for the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs in the United States, sponsoring “Run for the Border” trips to Canada and Mexico, where drugs are routinely sold for one-half to one-third their domestic price. Now, it appears, the pharmaceutical industry has sat up and taken notice.
In response, the industry last week unveiled a multi-million dollar radio and television campaign in Montana and other states bordering Canada and Mexico, aimed at denigrating the Canadian health care system and trying to convince Americans not to buy their prescription drugs across the border. The spots also urge Americans to ask their representatives in Congress to oppose legislation that would control the price of domestic prescription medications.
Now, Schweitzer is fighting back, this week launching television ads of his own that attack the pharmaceutical industry’s “scare tactics” as just another cynical effort to deceive the American public. As Schweitzer points out, the industry campaign, launched under the guise of “Citizens for Better Medicare,” is in fact funded in large part by large pharmaceutical firms and headed up by the chief lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
“This is as important an issue to families in Montana as any other,” says Schweitzer. “This is something that can be solved, this is an inequity that’s been created by Congress, and it’s something that we can get fixed.”
Schweitzer is referring to legislation passed by Congress in 1987 that outlawed the importation of prescription medication from abroad. But members of Congress have also begun to heed Schweitzer’s message, having introduced at least four pieces of legislation that address the inequities in prescription drug prices. For example, a bill sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) would repeal the 1987 ban on imported prescription drugs, while another bill would strip tax breaks from those pharmaceutical companies that sell the same drugs for less outside the United States. Currently, the pharmaceutical industry pays among the lowest tax rates of any industry in the nation, at about 16.5 percent.
“We want to force the pharmaceutical industry to sell this medicine to our local trusted pharmacist for the same price they do in Canada, Mexico, Switzerland and Germany,” says Schweitzer. “This is medicine that was developed in the United States, made in the United States and shipped all over the world.”
Schweitzer notes that his opponent, Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, has received more than $56,000 in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry in the last 12 years.