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Congress Should Help Consumers Pay Fair Prices For Prescription Drugs

For Immediate Release
July 25, 2003
For more information, contact:
Gail Shearer

Statement of Gail Shearer, Director of Health Policy Analysis
In Response to Reimportation Vote

Congress Should Help Consumers Pay Fair Prices
For Prescription Drugs: Urgent Follow-up to Reimportation Vote

“In voting for legislation that would make it legal for U.S. consumers to reimport lower priced drugs from Canada and Europe, Congress has opened the door to an option that could provide consumers with short-term relief from over-priced prescription drugs.
“As Congress rushes toward vacation, the debate and the vote are reminders that Congress has failed to deliver fairly priced prescription drugs for U.S. consumers. Too many Americans are either going without the medicines they need or facing financial hardship as a result of medicines that cost too much. At the same time, consumers need to be able to trust the safety of the medicines that they use.
“The debate over reimportation has exposed some of the harsh realities of pricing of prescription drugs: American taxpayers often pay substantial amounts of money for the discovery, by government researchers, of new chemical compounds. Then, as consumers, they must pay inflated prices to the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry after it brings the new drugs to the market after testing. At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry provides deep discounts to consumers in Canada and Europe.
“Consumers Union calls on Congress to establish as a national priority achieving fairly priced pharmaceuticals. Congress should close the loopholes that delay the introduction of lower-priced generics. Congress should pass the Allen/Emerson bill, H.R. 2356, The Prescription Drug Comparative Effectiveness Act. This bill would authorize the National Institute of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to carry out research and studies about the comparative effectiveness of drugs in various therapeutic categories. Congress should conduct a high-level review of drug pricing policies in other countries and consider which techniques would help U.S. consumers get better bang for the prescription drug buck.
“If enacted into law, legalizing reimportation would create new challenges related to drug safety. Even now, Congress and the FDA have a responsibility to the many consumers who obtain drugs from Canada and other countries. The reality of the failed marketplace and unfair pricing structure puts a burden on the U.S. government to take steps to protect consumers who turn to reimportation to get the medicines that they need at a price they can afford. The U.S. government has an obligation to step to the plate and make a commitment to develop long-term solutions to the challenge of reining in expenditures without sacrificing safety or effectiveness.”