Port: Importing Canadian price controls is not the answer for drug prices

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world because our nation is the great pressure relief valve for price-controlled health care markets.

Prescription Drugs
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MINOT, N.D. — North Dakotans aren't happy about drug prices, and I get it.

I'm living it. As I type these words I'm still recovering from the worst health crisis of my life and making many trips to the pharmacist.

Sen. Howard Anderson Jr., R-Turtle Lake, has introduced Senate Bill 2170 . It would pin our state's drug prices to the prices in four Canadian provinces.

Since prescription drugs are significantly cheaper in Canada, the effect would be much lower drug prices in North Dakota.

A win for North Dakotans who need medicine, you'd think, except it's not.


Canadian drug prices are cheaper because the Canadian government controls them.

In 1987 our northern neighbors created the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board . This entity reviews drug prices and, if it finds a price for a particular drug excessive, the board will not pay for it. Since Canada has a nationalized health care system, as a practical matter, this means Canadians can't access those drugs.

Many Americans may seek out cheaper prescription drugs in Canada, but many Canadians come to the United States to get the care and medicine their country's government won't pay for or won't provide promptly.

But if price controls are good enough for Canadians, why not Americans too?

The market impact of price controls "is that drug manufacturers get the best deal they can from Canada and other countries with price controls as long as they have reasonable profitability and make most of their profit from U.S. consumers," writes C. Michael White, a professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Connecticut .

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world because our nation is the great pressure relief valve for price-controlled health care markets. The American pharmaceutical industry plows a large percentage of its revenues back into research and development. As a result, most of the advancement in pharmaceuticals comes from the United States.


Americans make up about 4.25 percent of the world population, but between 2001 and 2010, some 57% of the world's new chemical entities were produced in the United States. Even the drugs released by companies based in other parts of the world are often born in the USA .

This is a problem. Americans shouldn't bear higher prices so that Canadians, and other proponents of nationalized health care, can control their prices.

But this is not a problem that can be resolved in state legislatures.

Our best hope lies with international trade deals that, as the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 put it, “achieve the elimination of government measures such as price controls and reference pricing which deny full market access for United States products.”

If the world wants American drugs, they should pay for them, just like we do.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .


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Rob Port

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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