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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank the Presiding Officer and the chairman of the committee.
Mr. President, I rise today to speak concerning an amendment on which I am proud to join the Senator from North Dakota, Mr. BYRON DORGAN, and other colleagues in an effort to lower the cost of prescription drugs. But I do want to make one comment on Medicare before I do that.
We know our plan, overall, is about saving lives, saving money, and saving Medicare. That is what this is about overall. That is what we are doing in our health care reform proposal for American families. But I do want to mention and stress again this is about saving Medicare. It is about strengthening Medicare and our commitment.
I do have to say, we have been hearing from colleagues, and the distinguished Republican leader has said over and over again that, in fact, cutting Medicare is not what Americans want. Then last night he said here on the floor that expanding Medicare was a plan for financial ruin. So they do not want to cut, they do not want to expand. I am not sure where our colleagues on the other side are in terms of Medicare. But I know where we are. I know we are the party that created Medicare, with President Johnson at the time. We are the party that has continued to promote and to expand and to strengthen Medicare. We are the party that intends to make sure we save Medicare for the future, expanding prescription drug coverage, to be able to close the doughnut hole, to be able to expand the ability of seniors to have preventive care, and to extend the life of the Medicare trust fund, which is critically important.
And to that, I want to speak now to the other two provisions we have as our priorities: saving lives and saving money. The Dorgan-and-others amendment, which I am proud to join Senator Dorgan on, does exactly that. It will save lives and save money. As a Senator from Michigan, I know that very well. We can look across the Detroit River into Windsor and know that the people of Michigan, by going across the bridge, would be able to drop their costs 30, 40, 50 percent.
There is something wrong with the system where Americans are paying so much more than those in other countries for the same drug. The safety provisions are the same. The difference is there have been protections put up at the American border to stop Americans from getting the benefit of having our hospitals, our pharmacies, our schools of medicine, and others who use prescription drugs to be able to bring that back, to do business across the border.
Everybody is always talking about open borders, open trade. Well, this is a trade issue about bringing back FDA-approved prescription drugs across the border to the American side, so Americans have access to lower priced medicines.
It has been about 10 years now since I did my first bus trip to Canada with seniors. I have been doing that for a long time. I have been focused on this issue both in my days in the House of Representatives, where I took the lead
on this issue, as well as now working with colleagues in the Senate. It is time to get this right in the context of health care reform because this is about saving lives and saving money.
I want to share one story. I have heard so many over the years from people in Michigan. But here is one recent story of someone who has written to me.
Joe is a 40-year-old father with heart disease. His family says despite his heart condition, he is doing well. He loves to work. His medicines cost over $4,800 a month. Can you imagine that? But his insurance has a family cap of $10,000 a year. In other words, after basically 2 months, he hits the cap, and he has to pay for everything out of pocket.
By going over the bridge to Canada--and we have three bridges: up in the Upper Peninsula, we have a bridge; in Port Huron we have a bridge; and in Detroit we have a bridge, the largest cross-border bridge in terms of volume of goods and services on the northern border--but by simply going across the bridge, Joe would be able to save $2,000 a month.
We should be able to do better for Joe and his family. He could save $2,000--almost half of his cost--by simply buying the same drug, FDA approved, from one side of the bridge instead of the other.
We also know that the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor is about 40 percent less, also the ulcer medication Prevacid is about 50 percent less, according to a search on Pharmacy Checker. I have to say that again. This is a trade issue and whether we are going to continue to have trade barriers. Because, for instance, Lipitor is made in Ireland and Pfizer is able to bring that back to America, they can bring it back. But if someone wants to go to Windsor, Canada, right across the bridge, and purchase a lower priced version of the very same drug, Lipitor, and bring it back as an individual or a business or a pharmacy or a hospital, it is illegal. It is illegal. That makes absolutely no sense.
This amendment is about opening the border, allowing our pharmacies, allowing our wholesalers, allowing hospitals--I have gotten calls from medical schools at universities wanting to do business, to lower their cost, with wholesalers in other countries where it is FDA approved, safe to do that. That is what this bill is about.
Right now, we are in a situation where if we do not pass the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act, which we have introduced on a bipartisan basis, we are going to continue to have a situation where people such as Joe, a 40-year-old father with heart disease, is going to be paying $4,800 a month out of his own pocket, when we could cut that down. It still would be tremendous, but we could cut that by $2,000 for him, by passing this legislation.
The drug importation bill is supported conceptually. We have been working over time with many different groups such as AARP, the Alliance for Retired Americans, Families USA, and Cato Institute--very different groups philosophically, but they all agree we need more competition, we need to open the border to safe--and I emphasize and underline ``safe''--FDA-approved prescription drugs so we are focused not on what is best for the pharmaceutical industry, the brand-name companies, but what is best for American citizens who are struggling, who see their prices go up 8 percent, 9 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent every year. Families cannot sustain that.
How many of us have stood on this floor and talked about the fact that people are choosing between food and medicine? That is not just rhetoric. It is not rhetoric. It is real. It is real for people right now today. It is getting cold. It is getting very cold. People are deciding: Am I going to keep the heat on or am I going to be able to get my medicine? Am I going to be able to get my food? Am I able to get my medicine? Am I able to pay the rent, the mortgage, or get the medicine I need for my life or for my child's life or for my husband's or wife's ability to continue to live a healthy, successful life?
That is what this is about. We have an easy, straightforward way to increase competition, to bring down prices, with safe, strong safety standards. This is something that makes sense. It will help seniors. It will help people with disabilities who are in the doughnut hole before we get that all closed under Medicare. It will help every family and every individual right now who needs medicine and is paying more and more, higher and higher prices every single year.
I hope we will have a very strong bipartisan vote. This is a very important addition to what we are doing here. This truly will save lives and save money; and that is what we are all about: creating competition to bring prices down so the American people have access to the medicine and to the health care they need and deserve.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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