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Olympia Snowe

Bipartisan Importation Bill Paves the Way for Lower Prescription Drug Prices
By Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Member of the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee
Mar 9, 2009 - 11:10:25 PM

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This week I joined 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 expenses in the midst of a severe economic downturn, they are forced to cut corners by skipping doses or splitting pills and, in turn, neglect 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 provide for the safe importation of FDA-approved prescription drugs. The "Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act" I introduced with Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will bring consumers immediate relief and will ultimately bring 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 rate of 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, anti-counterfeiting technology and tracking of shipments to assure the security of medications. We don't rely on "certifying safety"- this legislation ensures safety.

Some are surprised when they learn that many of the drugs which Americans use every day are in fact manufactured in foreign plants. And part of the approval of a drug involves the manufacturing process. Yet today foreign plants are seldom inspected – it can be as many as 12 years between inspections. Under our legislation, such plants – and in fact every step in the drug supply chain – is to be inspected and regulated by FDA.

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. At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office has our legislation as producing $50 billion in just direct savings alone, including $10 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Isn't this exactly the kind of savings we should be achieving at a time of escalating health care costs? 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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