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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

You should know that, apparently, some people in Washington D.C. are starting to realize that I will be elected to represent the residents of the 15th Congressional District, and are already starting to copy my lifestyle and legislation.

To my surprise, a week ago, I was hit with a picture of Congressman Adriano Espaillat in Washington D.C. wearing a cowboy hat similar to my own trademark. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!!!

Now, my dear reader, I have learned that the President of the United States is copying one of my old proposed legislation in order to ease the burden of astronomical prices our New York senior citizens and residents pay for their prescription drugs. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!!!

It is important for you to know that The Wall Street Journal blasted out its headline Tuesday morning: “US Advances Plan to Allow Imports of Drugs in Bid to Cut Prices». The story explains that the current HHS Secretary Alex Azar, met with the Florida Governor and announced that Health and Human Services will grant a waiver to the State of Florida to import from Canada US manufactured prescription drugs. Canada has a strict price control system imposed on all prescription drugs which are sold within its borders.

Let me give an example of one US manufactured drug – Norvasc, produced by American drug manufacturer Pfizer, is a medicine used to treat high blood pressure. Under Canadian price controls this medicine cannot be sold for a price higher than allowed by Canadian law, after it is imported into Canada. That price is a fraction of what it costs in the US.

Under the rules agreed today, the Health and Human Services department will allow the State of Florida to purchase and import drugs from Canada which are sold there cheaper than in the US. The HHS must give their permission because it is currently illegal for any person, agency or entity within the US to do this. Despite this legal ban, as you readers know the County of Schenectady, here in our state has been buying cheaper Canadian sold US manufactured prescriptions for years.

Let me just remind you that I have been seeking exactly this same legislation since I arrived at the New York City Council in 2001. One of my first bills introduced would have required the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation to buy cheaper brand name US drugs directly from the cheaper Canadian sources. The bill had hearing in the Council Health Committee chaired by Christine Quinn. Chairwoman Quinn derided this bill as ill-conceived and full of “unintended consequences.” Mayor Mike Bloomberg opposed it. My bill was soundly rejected, as having seriously flawed “unintended consequences.” It was literally “laughed at unto scorn” by the Health Committee. It died in the Health Committee.

While a State Senator, in 2009, I wrote legislation (S1645) that would mandate the State of New York, to seek and purchase cheaper Canadian drugs, for the Department of Aging (DFTA) and for other State agencies. I copied what Schenectady was currently doing, and introduced a bill mandating that the State of New York do the same. On March 25th, 2009 my Aging Committee had a public hearing in Albany. The following people testified: Michael Burgess, Director, NYS Office for the Aging; Christopher Gardner, Chair, Schenectady County Attorney; G. Anthony Howard, President and CEO, CanaRx Services, Inc.; Jason Angell, Working Families Party; Craig Burridge, Pharmacists’ Society of the State of New York; Chris Ward, PhRMA; John Panichi, CEO and Barry McNamara, President, Benetech; and David McNally, Manager of Government Affairs and Bill Ferris, State Legislative Representative AARP of NYS.

At that time, the NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo warned that this practice was illegal and Governor David Patterson also opposed it. One elected official outside of NY State who totally supported it, was then a US Senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan who personally endorsed my bill, and said it was long overdue.

Since 2001 I have believed this is a matter of life and death. I meet constituents regularly who, although insured, cannot afford the copay for this medication. I admire Governor Cuomo’s change of heart, and gently remind him that he need not reinvent the wheel. Because there was previous legislation (S1645) which was introduced, marked as a “same as” bill in the Assembly by Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and a full public hearing in 2009. The Governor need only request the “blue jackets” of these bills, and sign the laws. Done.

You should also know in April of 2019 the three largest US Pharmaceutical companies reported record profits. In 2018, Americans spent $535 billion on prescriptions, an increase of 50% since 2010. In other words, in the ten years since I had my hearing in Albany, the price tag for Americans buying their prescriptions, increased by 50%. For those with HIV and diabetes, the price increases for their medications during this ten-year period are enough to shock the conscious. This issue is not going away and I’m not going to ignore it, despite being “laughed to scorn,” and being warned of “unintended consequences” it has been and remains my number one priority in terms of what Government must use its power to do, since I entered elected office in 2001.

As you can see, my dear reader, from Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the President of the United States, their imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

This is Councilman Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr and this is what you should know.

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