Bipartisan Importation Bill Paves the Way for Lower Prescription Drug Prices (Sen. Olympia Snowe)

Last week I joined with a bipartisan coalition of my Senate colleagues to introduce legislation that will reduce the cost of prescription drugs in the United States. As Americans struggle with exorbitant health care costs in the midst of a severe economic downturn, more and more individuals are forced to skip doses or split pills, neglecting their health needs to keep food on the table. It’s time that we work together to alleviate the unnecessary burden of expensive drugs and safely lift the ban on prescription drug importation. The "Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act" I introduced with Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), John McCain (R-AZ), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will bring consumers immediate relief and will ultimately force the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices in the United States.

Americans pay far too much for prescription drugs. In fact, the cost of brand drugs in the U.S. increases at the unsustainable rate of two to three times the inflation. This bill allows U.S.-licensed pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import FDA-approved medications from Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan and pass along the savings to their American customers. This approach will allow Americans to benefit from prices in these countries, which are 35 to 55 percent lower than in the U.S., while still enabling consumers to receive medications at their local pharmacy.

Many fear that drug importation is unsafe. Yet this legislation contains strong safeguards to prohibit drug counterfeiting or any other practices that would put consumers at risk. Our bill requires strong prescription controls, improved labeling, anticounterfeiting technology and tracking of shipments to assure the security of medications. We don’t rely on "certifying safety"- this legislation ensures safety.

By implementing a safe prescription drug importation program, we will increase competition within the domestic prescription drug market which, in turn, will ensure more Americans have access to safe and affordable medications. While we still have much to do to ensure universal access to health care, no solution will be sustainable if we do not address the fact that our health costs are approximately double that of other industrialized nations. This bill takes a critical step to reduce those costs to make affordable access a reality.

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