The fight for access to safe and affordable medication will continue in 2015. As 2014 ends we find the price of medication continuing to escalate. AARP’s recent drug price report showed that brand name drug prices had increased by 13% in 2013, eight times the rate of inflation. The costs of generic drugs are going through the roof, some by astronomical amounts – to the tune of thousands of percent. Then of course 2014 brought us Sovaldi at $1000/pill, which is just the tip of the iceberg, as many more outrageously priced “specialty medications” are coming down the pipeline in 2015. New drugs that save lives and help people get better are great…but only if they are affordable.
In the holiday spirit, Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota published a Christmas-themed op-ed last week called “How the Drug Companies Play Scrooge,” as in Ebenezer Scrooge, the greedy miser in Charles Dickens’ famous story A Christmas Carol. Klobuchar’s ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are, respectively, rampant drug price increases; the highest drug prices in the world by far; and the continuing assault on the pocketbooks of Americans by pharmaceutical companies unless Congress acts. Interestingly, Sen. Klobuchar’s metaphor compares Scrooge to Congress (not the pharmaceutical industry). She writes: “if Ebenezer Scrooge can be transformed from a crotchety, thoughtless, “bah humbug” miser to a generous steward of good will to all after only one night of ghostly visits, certainly there is hope for Congress.”
What can Congress do to end its Scrooge-like protection of big pharma? Sen. Klobuchar recommends three legislative solutions. Congress should pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies under the same protocols permitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, federal law actually bans such negotiations. Under one estimate, due to the VA’s ability to negotiate prices, drug prices are 40% lower when obtained through the VA than through Medicare.
Ending what Sen. Klobuchar calls “illegal pay-to-delay” deals between brand name and generic pharmaceutical companies, which postpone market availability of lower cost generic drugs, is another solution that can be addressed legislatively. Legislation introduced by Klobuchar and Sen. Charles Grassley would give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to stop those deals. Sen. Klobuchar asserts that the savings from ending pay-to-delay could be $4.7 billion for the U.S. budget and $3.5 billion for consumers.
Last but not least, Sen. Klobuchar recommends helping American consumers to personally import lower cost medication by passing The Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act. This legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain from Arizona, would essentially codify the current practice of Americans buying lower cost medication from Canadian pharmacies. We support this bill but believe it needs to be expanded to include pharmacies in many other countries from which lower cost and safe medication can be and currently are obtained.
Congressional opponents of Klobuchar’s personal drug importation bill, the most vociferous among them surely raking in huge donations from big pharmaceutical companies, will argue that the Act will open the door to counterfeit drugs and rogue online pharmacies. The fact that counterfeit drugs and rogue online pharmacies exist, however, is not an argument against facilitating safe personal drug importation from verified international online pharmacies. Five million Americans already import medication for their own use. Consumers who purchase from safe international online pharmacies, such as those in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program, are able to save thousands of dollars a year. For many, personal importation of lower cost medication is the only option for obtaining needed prescription drugs.
While the FDA doesn’t prosecute Americans who import medications for their own use, federal law still holds that, under most circumstances, it is a crime!! It’s understandable that prescription drug importation meant for re-sale in U.S. pharmacies is regulated to that extent that those who violate the laws are subject to penalties. In contrast, people who need to import medication for their own use because they can’t afford the prices at U.S. pharmacies should not be subject to criminal enforcement of any kind, ever. So I hope that Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues, in addition to her recommendations identified above, introduce and pass a bill to amend federal law to decriminalize personal drug importation. By doing so Congress would bring prescription justice to Americans who are haunted by the scary ghosts, past, present and future, of the pharmaceutical industry.
Happy Holidays and New Year from PharmacyChecker.com!!