Real Liberals Don’t Support Drug Reimportation

Because this is how things go in Congress, Senate Democrats offered a stupid amendment to make Canadians sicker for no good reason. Cory Booker [D-NJ] voted against it and now the internet is mad at him.*

The whole episode is giving me flashbacks to Bernie Sanders’ single-payer healthcare proposal getting panned by actual single-payer advocates. It turns out math still exists even when you yell about who is and isn’t a real liberal.

Let’s review:

Canada has a single-payer health system. SEPARATELY, Canada regulates the cost of prescription drugs.

The details are boring but not actually that complicated:

  1. Patent-holder goes to Canada and asks nicely to sell drugs to distributors in Canada
  2. Canada does some math regarding how useful the drug is, how many people use it, how many people actually capital-N Need it, and comes back with a (usually lower) price
  3. Discussion ensues
  4. A price is agreed upon
  5. The drug company says excellent, I will now sell X many drugs at Y price

America, of course, does not regulate prescription drug prices at all, and that is not ideal. They should be regulated. Many Democrats, even those in Congress, think so.

But introducing a bill, or amendment, or motion to recommit, to regulate prescription drug prices runs into two problems:

  1. You can’t just pass a law that makes drugs cheaper. It requires executive collaboration, and America has historically lacked a President willing to do all of the negotiating necessary to establish price rates for our many prescription drugs
  2. Republicans historically yell that actual price regulation is WHARRGARBL SOCIALIZED MEDICINE which terrifies Democrats in Congress

So Democrats, or more accurately Bernie Sanders, came up with a solution: We’ll just buy all of our drugs from Canada.** WE’RE not the socialists, Canada is. Problem: SOLVED!

Besides being ridiculous and intellectually dishonest, there’s an enormous problem with this idea: “Canada” is not “magic that makes drugs cheaper.”

Canada uses math to come to voluntary agreements with drug companies to sell drugs based on, among other things, how many people are actually buying their drugs.

So what do you think happens in the extremely unlikely event that opportunistic Americans start mooching off of Canadian regulation?

The answer is not “drugs in America will magically become cheaper.” The answer is “Canada will run out of drugs.”

Imagine you’re a pharmaceutical CEO. In between sacrificing babies on your private altar to Mammon, you very much enjoy your unregulated US market. And then a whole bunch of Americans start buying their drugs in Canada.

What do you do?

You do nothing.

You annually sell a set amount of drugs to Canadian distributors. There’s always a bit of overage or additional sales, but it’s a stable market at a stable price. How is Canada running out of drugs because of Americans your problem now?

It isn’t. Job well done, you tell yourself as you head back to your private altar.

In the meantime, Canadian patients will get sicker, and some will die, because there are now shortages of all sorts of drugs. This is the point where Canada probably will say, um no, you cannot reimport drugs from our carefully maintained system.

Either way, prices in America will stay the same.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with messaging votes, votes the minority party forces to demonstrate a point rather than become law. But prescription drug reimportation is an extremely bad vote. It isn’t actually a vote to make drugs cheaper, because it would not make drugs cheaper! It would just harm and annoy Canadians.

Either facts matter, or they don’t. If facts don’t matter to you and you’d rather cheer for terrible votes that hurt people, there’s a political party that does literally that all day and in the dead of night. It’s the GOP.

If facts do matter do you, then stop cheering for bad policy that isn’t even liberal. It’s not liberal to value Canadian lives less than American ones, and that’s the only thing prescription drug reimportation does.

*That these liberal purity tests only seem to appear with Democrats who are coincidentally female or nonwhite is a discussion for another time

**The fact that Sanders’ home state shares a border with Canada and this is therefore of interest to his constituents is possibly coincidence.