Guess what, you guys? Congress failed to do something again! But this time it may come down to something deeper than partisan politics. This time it may be as simple as just plain not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing. Neither, apparently, do any of the private-sector parties they’ve been consulting with. But one of them had better come up with something good before any more people take fake Avastin. (It’s a cancer drug. If it was fake Cialis, I’d just laugh.)
The intention was a national plan to track medications, hoping to stem the tide of counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain after vials of counterfeit Avastin was sold to multiple medical practices. The plan was designed as a measure in a funding bill for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), proposed by Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). Both chambers of Congress eventually decided that they couldn’t figure out what the plan would look like or who would pay for it.
It’s not that they don’t have a couple of ideas; options include an inspection user fee and a track-and-trace system (which, in my ideal universe, would include a holographic decal on the bottom of the vial like on Canadian bank notes). Various pharmaceutical lobbies prefer the user fee option. And why shouldn’t they? Any costs incurred by them for the inspection process pay for themselves, thanks to consumers, most of whom need those medications and probably have plenty of other health care costs to contend with.
Even once the issue of payment is settled, they’ll have to deal with the question of giving new regulatory powers to the FDA. Given their existing regulatory powers and the fact that the vast majority of this commerce is interstate, that shouldn’t be legally difficult. Politically difficult, maybe, but likely less so than other regulatory powers. So, really, the only sticking point is the payment issue. Does it really take that long to figure out, considering they’ve been working on this for at least two years?
It’s worth noting that the 12 largest pharmaceutical companies alone raked in over $44 billion in profits last year. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the industry pay for inspection fees themselves. They’re the ones who ultimately lose money because of counterfeit drugs. Why shouldn’t they pay extra to protect themselves? Or is it just the possibility of the word “tax?”
These days the thing politicians fear most is the idea of making private businesses pay for things. I might err on that side of caution if we weren’t talking about an industry that makes $44 billion a year. But drug safety is worth the expense. (And please do consider the decals. They work well for our cash.)