Guy T. Sturino
Today a visibly emotional Senator Robert Byrd stood to say, "Thank God for Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont. Thank God." That was all he said - it was all he had to say.The reason for his remark was the speech Senator Sanders had just delivered. In a scathing rebuke of the nine-year congressional deference to the pharmaceutical industry, Senator Sanders told the nation what has been going on during that time. What had happened was that the kind of remarks that are normally only heard in homes and gathering places across the country had been said by a Senator - on the floor of the Senate - in front of a camera.Senator Sanders speech followed a presentation by Senator Dorgan (D-ND) about Senator Dorgan's amendment which would allow the re-importation of prescription drugs. Both Senators pointed out the fact that drugs produced in the same manufacturing facility, whether the facility was here or in another country, wind up costing more here than anywhere else in the world. Senator Dorgan's example was a drug produced in Ireland and sold in Canada for half of the cost charged in the U.S. Senator Sanders' example was a cancer drug produced here and sold in Canada for 10% of the price in a U.S. pharmacy. Senator Dorgan talked about the amendment itself and the fallacies of the arguments against it. Senator Sanders did some of the same, but more importantly he re-framed the debate to include the reason those arguments were being put forward. First came the revelation that since 1998 the pharmaceutical industry has spent about nine hundred million dollars ($900,000,000.00) on lobbying efforts. Those efforts include maintaining a force of over1200 lobbyists, many of whom are former Republican and Democratic party leaders. That is more than two lobbyists for each member of congress. In addition, we were told that since the year 2000 the pharmaceutical industry contributed almost two hundred fifty million dollars ($250,000,000.00) to congressional campaigns. Putting these things in context Senator Sanders said,"What this debate is about is not just whether or not we're going to lower the cost of prescription medicine in this country and save billions and billions of dollars for the consumers of our country - for people with acute illness, for our seniors. It is also about whether the congress of the United States is in fact prepared to stand up to the most powerful, the greediest special interest in the United States of America. And in my view the time is long overdue for us to begin to make some fundamental changes in our prescription drug policies in this country."The time is long overdue for us to lower the price of medicine for our people. Which not only, of course, helps people pay for prescription drugs, it will lower the entire cost of health care in the United States. We spend far more money for health care in the United States than any other country on earth and lowering the cost of prescription drugs will have an impact on that."What this issue is about is not drug safety. What this issue is about is the profits of the pharmaceutical industry and the enormous power they have over congress. Now is the time for us to say to the drug companies 'you have dominated what goes on year after year. You in the drug industry wrote the prescription drug medicare bill. You have resisted year after year every effort to reform how we price medicine in the United States."Maybe the year 2007 might be the moment in which members of congress have the courage to stand up and say enough is enough. Let us stand up and support the men and women and children, the seniors of our country. Let us lower the cost of prescription drugs. Let us pass prescription drug re-importation." After reading this maybe you feel like Senator Byrd - or not. But if not, it's probably correct to say that you don't have to worry about the price of prescription drugs.