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Pressuring Canada to cut off cheap drugs

Never underestimate the power of a pharmaceutical industry out to protect its profits from American customers living on Social Security and pensions. It apparently can even reach out and pressure a sovereign nation into action. Well, another one besides the United States. Now Canada seems about to cave in. Supposedly to protect Canadians from drug shortages or prices being driven up by U.S. demand (neither has happened), and to protect Canadian physicians from temptation to be "unethical" (i.e., compassionate), the Canadian health minister is drafting regulatory restrictions which, if they go into effect in a couple of months, could prevent Internet pharmacies from selling mail-order prescriptions to U.S. consumers. It's a $700 million industry. Most of its 1.8 million American customers are senior citizens whose Medicare does not include a drug plan - or at least not a decent one. They are tired of paying up to twice as much for their drugs in the free-market U.S. as people do in price-regulated Canada. "Re-importation," is technically illegal in the U.S. but the ban has not been enforced. The drug manufacturers oppose it as undercutting their higher-margin sales in the U.S. Governors and lawmakers from border states, many Republican, encourage their citizens to visit Canada for their prescriptions. The AARP seniors have been lobbying heavily to allow reimportation, and last year the House passed a bill legalizing it. The Senate might have if Majority Leader (and M.D.) Bill Frist had allowed it to come up for a vote. A couple of years ago, several major manufacturers threatened to stop supplying drugs to pharmacies which reimported. That didn't work. And Congress won't play ball. So now the industry is putting the screws on Canada. President Bush, whose presidential campaign received heavy pharmaceutical industry funding, supports the ban on drug reimportation. ( "Socialized medicine" lowered those prices.) He visited Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin last fall, and in a Nov. 30 meeting in Ottawa they discussed the issue. Soon after the health minister made his proposals. Coincidence? His proposals strike at the system by which a customer faxes a prescription written by his U.S. doctor plus his health history to a Canadian doctor, who co-signs before the pharmacy ships the medicine. He would forbid Canadian doctors to co-sign American prescriptions unless they examine the patient, ban prescriptions for foreigners absent from Canada and prohibit exporting drugs for which a shortage might develop. No fair. Let's hope Canadians rise up against outside interference and bury those restrictions.
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