Want to lower rising drug prices? Well, according to US Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Bob Casey, one way to go about doing this would be to allow the importation of lower-cost medications from countries outside the US. Their bill, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, which was introduced in February of this year, would require Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow “wholesalers, licensed U.S. pharmacies, and individuals to import qualifying prescription drugs manufactured at FDA-inspected facilities from licensed Canadian sellers.” Two years after the enactment date, the bill would also give HHS the authority to allow importation from countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which meet the statutory or regulatory standards that are comparable to US standards.
Sanders and co. argue that some of the most expensive drugs in the US are available in Canada and other advanced countries around the world at a fraction of the price. In fact, in 2014, Canada spent $772 per person on prescription drugs while Denmark spent only $325. In the same year, however, the US spent a whopping $1,112 per person, and drug prices have continued to grow steadily ever since.
Sanders has been a longtime advocate for the importation of safe, low-cost medications from abroad. In an official statement, posted on his website, Sanders argues that drug importation can help the millions of Americans who cannot currently afford their medication access cheaper alternatives, so that fewer patients are left untreated. He also suggests that this measure could help bolster competition in the US and force American drug manufacturers to consider lowering their prices.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis seems to support these claims, as it estimates that buying prescription drugs from countries with more patient-friendly drug pricing could save US taxpayers nearly $7 billion over a ten-year period.
However, despite the potential cost savings, there are some skeptics who argue that drug importation could negatively affect the US. Those within the pharma industry believe that allowing the importation of medicines puts US patients at risk, as it increases the likelihood of patients buying and using dangerous counterfeit and adulterated drugs.
Many within the FDA also oppose Sanders’ bill as they worry it could derail the carefully constructed system currently in place to ensure the safety of US medical products. The current FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has stated that the FDA lacks the resources necessary to regulate incoming drugs meaning that imported products would not be approved by the agency.
Others who oppose the bill claim that, although drug importation could increase competition and force drug companies to lower their prices in the US, this could result in companies increasing their prices in other countries to off-set their monetary losses. Drug companies have the power to alter their pricing strategies however they see fit, and this could negatively affect patients in other regions of the world.
However, because there are strong arguments for and against drug importation, it could be sometime before we see a decision made one way or the other.