21 Jan 2017
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Last week, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) proposed an amendment (S.A. 178) to the Senate Budget Reconciliation bill that would allow individuals, pharmacies and wholesalers to import prescription medications from Canada and other countries with a valid prescription from a U.S. provider.

The amendment took place during a 7-hour vote-a-rama in which more than 150 amendments were considered and voted on for a brief ten minutes.  The amendment failed 52-46, with 13 Democrats voting against it. While the measure failed to pass, it surprisingly garnered support from 12 Republicans including Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. It’s worth noting that Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) voted against the Dorgan-Snowe importation amendment in 2009, voted yes this time around.

Making it lawful to import lower cost medication has had broad public support. A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that 72 percent of Americans are in favor of allowing personal drug importation.

Congress missed a huge opportunity last week to bring justice for millions of Americans struggling to afford their prescription medications. Some members of Congress are facing harsh criticism for not supporting this measure. Senators Murray and Cantwell defended their opposition to the amendment by raising concerns about safety and quality of imported drugs and maintaining federal standards for prescription drugs.

While Senator Cory Booker supports personal importation of prescription medication, he too avoided voting in favor of the amendment by citing consumer safety as an issue. Yet despite federal prohibitions, safe personal drug importation through properly verified online pharmacies is already a lifeline of affordable medication for about four million Americans each year. Often, American consumers are able to purchase prescription drugs from safe non-U.S. pharmacies for 10% of their cost in the United States.

The window of opportunity is upon us with growing bi-partisan support and an incoming President whose approach to the drug price crisis has been more democrat-friendly. President Trump campaigned on a promise to allow for personal drug importation of safe and affordable medications. Most recently, he has stepped up his attack on the pharmaceutical industry for its exceedingly overpriced prescription drugs. He believes the federal government is overpaying billions of dollars because it fails to negotiate Medicare drug pricing. During his first press conference last week, Mr. Trump stated, “Drug companies are getting away with murder. We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don’t bid properly, and we’re going to save billions of dollars.”

Removing restrictions on safe and legal personal drug importation is a necessary step in providing relief to the millions of Americans struggling to pay for their medications. We expect Congress to stop letting drug companies get away with murder. Senators Bernie Sanders and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) intend to introduce new prescription drug importation legislation and we hope the next vote will prevail.

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