Prescription Drug Prices

The market is rigged against Americans
By Steve Hirsch

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The first Tea Party took place in 1773 when pre-US Americans got fed up and threw tea into the Boston Harbor to protest taxation without representation. The second Tea Party kicked off in 2009 when conservatives got fed up with big government. I’m now calling on conservatives to throw a new party.

The Prescription Party.

Cool name, huh? I’m not about to dress up like an Mohawk warrior, ransack a bunch of boats, and throw stuff into the Boston Harbor. But I’m mad as the colonists were, except it’s not tea that’s got my goat. It’s prescription-drug prices. It’s not just that Americans pay more than anyone else for prescriptions. It’s that our government helps the drug companies rig the prescription market against Americans. And like I’ve previously written, that help feels a lot like collusion.

That’s right. Our prices aren’t determined by a free market. In a free market, we’d be allowed to import from Canada and other nations. But that’s illegal, thanks to Congress.


Okay, so back to the first Tea Party. Almost every American knows the story about England imposing high taxes on tea being imported into the American colonies from India. But there’s a less famous part of the story: English parliament illegalized competition. They only allowed the British East India Company to ship tea, thus preventing tax-free Dutch importation from India to American colonists.

If colonists had been allowed to legally import tea by way of the Dutch, Sam Adams wouldn’t have cared about the tea tax. He would have said, “If ye love tea, but not duties, look kindly upon the Dutch for thy cup. Not the English, those mother-you-know-what-ers.” Okay, so maybe he wouldn’t have said exactly those words, but my point is there wouldn’t have been a tea party. Colonists would have laughed at England’s tea taxes.

I’d laugh at the high prices drug companies charge Americans if we could freely import from Canada and Europe at cheaper prices.

The drug companies rig prices against Americans the same way that England rigged the tea market over two centuries ago. They got legislators to outlaw importation.

Getting parliament to outlaw Dutch-imported tea was easy because colonists had no representation in Parliament. Getting Congress to outlaw importation of prescription drugs should have been impossible since we have representation in Congress. But drug companies got it done because we have lousy representation in Congress. We need a Prescription Party Protest.


Every movement worth its salt has a tagline. MLK’s march on DC had I have a dream; The 1989 Berlin Protest had wir vollen raus meaning we want out; the aforementioned Boston Tea Party had no taxation without representation. The Prescription Party Protest’s tagline?

No Importation With Bad Representation.

Cool tagline, huh? We’re a free-market country, so yes, Pfizer should get to sell to Americans at whatever price they want, but Americans should have the right to import and buy from wealthy, well-regulated nations. And Swiss, Canadian and whatever drug stores should be allowed to set up shop in America, and sell cheap to Americans. Likewise, American drug stores should be allowed to open stores in wealthy, well-regulated nations so that they can buy cheap, then ship back here and sell cheap to us.

America doesn’t need to fix prices. All we need to do is make the market freer. But not 100% freer. Yes, I believe in free markets, but I’d continue to disallow importation of prescription-drugs from poor nations.

Here’s why: it costs billions to develop a drug, prove efficacy, and test side effects, but once it’s gone to market, it costs only a few pennies to manufacture each bottle of pills. That’s why, after selling at very profitable prices to wealthy nations, drug companies are willing to sell to the third-world at deep discounts (politically correct friends tell me to say developing world. I say tomato, you say tomato.)

A system in which Americans pay as dirt-cheap as the third world would kill investment in the pharmaceutical industry, rendering R&D a ghost of what it is now. I don’t want that.

I have no problem with Americans paying more for prescriptions than people in the third world. But there’s no way we should be paying twice and more what Swiss, Canadians, and Germans pay. That’s not just unfair. It’s an outrage. We need a Prescription Party Protest.


President Trump, you say you want cheaper drugs prices. Push Congress. The drug companies won’t like it. They’ll lobby. They might even pressure other nations to not export their cheaply acquired drugs to us. And if that’s the case, we need to play hardball. Yes, we prefer the free-market route, but let the drug companies know that if they force our hand, we’ll set prices based on what the average Western European and Canadian pays.

Importers will need to be audited to ensure against counterfeit and other fraud. And our FDA will have to fast-track approvals in certain cases: when a drug is FDA approved, but the manufacturer sells a slightly different formula in Sweden, Americans need to be allowed to buy the cheaper-priced formula.

This is doable. Do it, President Trump. Please.

Next, I’ll explain why prescription prices matter even when your insurance pays.

Steve Hirsch

Steve Hirsch
I'm a businessman who is fast approaching retirement age.