Rx COSTS: Import Bill Pushed, ‘Cross-Border Day’ Planned
Gathering in the Capitol on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushed for legislation that would allow Americans to purchase prescription drugs from foreign countries. The Nando Times reports that Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) this summer proposed the bill, which would give U.S. pharmacists the authority to directly import FDA-approved drugs, passing the savings on to American customers. As the only developed nation that does not regulate drug company prices or profits, Nando Times reports, the United States pays "the world's highest prices" for pharmaceutical products. The paper notes that residents of U.S. border states have long known that they could "save 200% or more" by purchasing drugs in Canada or Mexico. But cross-border buying sprees sponsored by the Minnesota Senior Federation and other groups were halted two years ago at the request of the U.S. Customs Service.
Support, But No Action
While three dozen legislators from border states, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN), and Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have signed on as co- sponsors of the bill, the legislation has made little progress in Congress. "We're told this is a global economy," said Dorgan, holding a bottle of Claritan allergy tablets sold in North Dakota for $218.96 but only $61 in Canada. Wellstone opined, "It is shameful that America's most vulnerable citizens -- the chronically ill and elderly -- are being asked to pay the highest prices in the world for the exact same drugs sold more cheaply overseas." In an effort to endorse the import legislation, sponsors announced plans for a "national cross-border day," with legislators leading delegations of senior citizens on drug-buying trip to Canada. The trips are expected to occur in late November or December of this year. In addition, the senators stated that they plan to press both President Clinton and presidential candidates to support the legislation; last week Clinton told CBS' "60 Minutes" he was interested in the idea. Additional drug importation legislation is slated for introduction by Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN).
Not So Happy
Not everyone is thrilled about the prospects of drug purchases from abroad. Industry economics expert John Calfee of the American Enterprise Institute suggested that the laws could result in prices so low that drug companies would be deterred from research and development. Calfee said, "Right now, research is very robust," in part because pharmaceutical companies see opportunities to offset research costs. If the legislation passes, he suspects that "in the long run it will undermine research incentives" (Hamburger, 10/20).