Bipartisan legislation that U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ) and others will offer this week in the Senate will give American consumers a break on prescription drug costs, while saving the federal government and consumers nearly $100 billion over the next ten years. The Senate is expected to consider the amendment as part of the health reform Wednesday or Thursday.
The legislation, called the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act, would allow American consumers to safely import lower-priced, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -approved drugs from other approved countries.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation is estimated to save the federal government $19.4 billion over the next ten years. Dorgan estimates the lower drug prices would also save American consumers about $100 billion over the next decade. Drug prices in the U.S. have been going up dramatically in recent years -- a 9 percent jump in 2009 alone -- and this amendment could provide some relief for the relentless increases.
The legislation contains strong safeguards to prohibit counterfeit drugs from entering the system or other practices that would put the consumer at risk, and applies only to FDA-approved prescription drugs produced in FDA-approved plants from countries with comparable safety standards.
Dorgan said the legislation will bring consumers immediate relief from the world's highest prescription medication costs, and will ultimately force the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices in the United States.
"U.S. consumers are charged the highest prices in the world for FDA-approved prescription drugs, and that's just not fair," Dorgan said. "This legislation has bipartisan support and will put downward pressure on prescription drug prices. It will save the federal budget nearly $20 billion over the next decade and will put downward pressure on prescription drug prices. It will save consumer up to $80 billion more over the 10 years."
"As we confront the ever-increasing cost of health care -- which is projected to exceed $33 trillion in the coming decade -- the imperative is clear that we must address rising costs, or affordable access to coverage simply cannot be achieved and sustained," said U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe. "By implementing a safe prescription drug importation program, this amendment will increase competition within the domestic prescription drug market which, in turn, will ensure more Americans have access to affordable medications. This is a common sense approach that will guarantee Americans can safely secure the medications they rely on to improve their overall health and well-being."
"The ability for Americans to buy cheaper, safe, imported prescription drugs is needed more than ever before with 16 million Americans out of work and millions more struggling financially," said Senator John McCain. "But while Americans all over the country are being forced to choose between their next meal and their necessary medications, pharmaceutical companies continue to lobby Congress to keep rules in place to prohibit the importation of the exact same prescription drugs sold here in the United States in order to maintain their profit margins."
"I've always considered this a free-trade issue. Imports create competition and keep domestic industry more responsive to consumers. And, if Americans could legally access prescription drugs outside the United States, then drug companies would be forced to re-evaluate their pricing strategy. The pharmaceutical industry would no longer have free rein to force American consumers to pay more than their fair share of the high cost of research and development," said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
"Americans have the right to safe and affordable medicines," Brown said. "Multinational drug companies already import medicines into this country, but they still charge Americans monopoly prices. This amendment would lower prices for consumers, businesses, and the government."
"America's seniors have long demanded legislative action to lower their drug costs," said Vitter. "It's high time we addressed all the legitimate concerns of importation without adding significant cost and bureaucracy to the process, which would wipe out consumer savings."
Senator Patrick Leahy said, "Americans pay some of the highest prices for prescriptions drugs in the world, even though many are made right here, and often with the benefit of taxpayer supported research. Making medicine affordable is part of what health reform should be. Prescription drugs are a lifeline, not a luxury."
"The unfortunate reality is that the American people continue to pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs," said Sanders. "The product is made in the same factory by the same company yet in American we pay two to three times more for that product than people in Canada and people in Europe. Prescription drug prices are soaring. It contributes to the high cost of health care in America. The time is long overdue for Congress to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry, the most powerful lobby in Washington, and say enough is enough."
"We've seen prescription drug prices increase year after year as Americans struggle to deal with the sky-rocketing costs of health care," said Klobuchar. "Giving people access to safely imported FDA-approved medication increases competition and gives families and seniors access to safe and effective prescription drugs."
"When I was elected to Congress, I organized buses of senior citizens to Canada to point out the abuses of insurance companies charging American consumers much higher prices for prescriptions than someone would pay across the border for the same FDA-approved medication," said Stabenow. "With the passage of this amendment, Michigan families will see significant savings in drug costs because for the first time, pharmacists and wholesalers will be able to import safe, affordable prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations."
"This is an important effort to lower the cost of prescription drugs for consumers, and help save taxpayer dollars at the same time," said Feingold. "This is a critical moment to show Congress's commitment to fiscal responsibility as we reform our health care system, and that's why I'm so pleased to support this amendment."
"For folks in Montana on a fixed income, paying for critical life-saving prescriptions is tough," said Senator Jon Tester. "This bipartisan, common sense measure will reduce costs for patients and save the taxpayer money. Saving lives and saving money is what health reform is all about."
"I've met so many Rhode Islanders who struggle to pay for the prescription drugs they need," said Whitehouse. "This health care reform effort provides an opportunity once and for all to rein in budget-busting prescription costs, and this amendment is an important part of that effort."
"Access to and affordability of quality health care services and prescription drugs are of paramount importance as we reform our health care system," said Sen. Webb. "Americans are continually charged the world's highest prices for prescription drugs, with 47 million Americans unable to afford the drugs that they need. I strongly support this amendment and others that encourage competition and help ensure that consumers have greater access to safe, affordable prescription drugs and services."
The bill has substantial bipartisan support, with Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), David Vitter (R-LA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jim Webb (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) cosponsoring the amendment.