Mr. President, I wish to speak in support of the Dorgan-Snowe importation amendment No. 2793, which provides some much-needed relief to Americans who are being crushed by ever-higher prescription drug costs. I wish to first note I am eagerly awaiting the details of some of the proposals that were put out there last night. I appreciate the work of my colleagues, but I do want to hear the response from the Congressional Budget Office. As I have said on this floor many times, I am concerned about expanding Medicare unless we do something about the geographic disparities that are already present in our system. When we look at some of the numbers, the average patient got $6,600 in Minnesota in 2006, and Texas is something like $9,300. What we want to try to do with this bill, and what I like about this bill, is all of the cost reform measures that are going to push us toward rewarding States that are participating in systems that provide more efficient care. If we don’t do something about these geographic disparities, we are going to further exacerbate this by expanding Medicare.
So I have some concerns about this, and I look forward to hearing from my colleagues as well as, of course, the solvency of the Medicare Program, which is scheduled to go in the red by 2017 under existing circumstances.
Back to the Dorgan-Snowe amendment. This amendment not only would allow American pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import FDA-approved medications from Canada and several other countries and pass the savings on to consumers, it would also import some much-needed competition into the American pharmaceutical market. It is estimated that the amendment, which enjoys both Democratic and Republican sponsors, would result in Federal savings of $19.4 billion over 10 years, just at a time when we are looking for these kinds of savings.
Millions of Americans depend on prescription drugs to help them manage chronic disease or other illnesses, but drug prices continue to skyrocket with annual increases well above the general inflation rate. From 1997 to 2007, retail drug prices increased an average of 6.9 percent per year, more than 2 1/2 times the general rate of inflation, which was 2.6 percent per year over the same period.
Look at that difference: 6.9 percent per year compared to 2.6 percent per year. As a result of these rising prices, many patients are forced to split pills, skip doses, or not fill their prescriptions at all. Yet right across the northern border of Minnesota and Canada, many of these same brand-name prescription drugs are available at a much lower cost.
For example, according to one recent comparison, a 90-day supply of Lipitor costs $256 in the United States. In Canada, it is available for $188. In other words, Canadians pay 26 percent less than Americans for the very same drug.
Here is another example: A 90-day supply of Nitroderm patches cost $303 in the United States but $125 in Canada. The Canadian price is 59 percent cheaper. We can go right down the line of major brand-name drugs and see these dramatic price disparities. In fact, every year, Canada’s pharmaceutical pricing board compares Canadian prices for patented drug products with prices in a number of other countries. Consistently, prices in the United States are higher by double-digit percentages. In 2008 U.S. prices were, on the average, 63 percent higher than Canadian prices.
Now, current Federal law says no one except the manufacturer can import a drug into the United States. Wholesale and retail pharmacies aren’t allowed to. State and local governments aren’t allowed to. Individual Americans aren’t allowed to, even for personal use. But, of course, they do, and they have been doing it for a number of years.
My State, as I noted, happens to be on the border of Canada. Every day Canadians cross over to Minnesota to work and make purchases and fish and do all kinds of things. Likewise, Minnesotans cross over to Canada every day to work and make purchases and fish. It is no big deal. We are not afraid of Canadians. Minnesotans know that Canadians pay less—much less—for many of their prescription drugs.
Beginning in the 1990s, the Minnesota Senior Federation started organizing bus trips for seniors to go up and cross the border into Canada so they could get affordable prices for the drugs they depend on.
The Senior Federation also introduced a prescription drug importation program and used its buying power to negotiate directly with Canadian mail order pharmacies to provide lower cost prescription drugs to Minnesota seniors. But drug prices in the United States just continue to go higher and higher and higher so the pressure to find some relief kept growing.
Finally, some State governments decided to take their own initiative to help their residents purchase lower cost drugs from Canada. Minnesota was one of the very first. There was broad bipartisan support for this with a Republican Governor and Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.
In February 2004, the State of Minnesota established RX-Connect, the first State-run Web site to provide citizens with information on how to safely purchase drugs from Canada. The Web site lists prices for hundreds of brand-name and generic medications as well as voicemail and e-mail contact information.
The American pharmaceutical industry likes to use scare tactics to keep people from buying their medications in Canada. Look at what is happening. You don’t see a lot of problems there with their drugs.
The Dorgan-Snowe amendment takes on renewed importance and urgency because the American pharmaceutical industry has been imposing suspicious drug price increases this year. Last month, the New York Times reported that drugmakers have been busy raising prices for the most common prescribed medicines in anticipation of possible health care reform. The newspaper quoted industry analysts as saying that in the 12 months ending September 30, drugmakers have raised the wholesale prices of brand-name prescription drugs by about 9 percent. Overall, that means an additional $10 billion in health care spending. That is the largest increase since 1992, and it happened even as the consumer price index declined during the same 12-month period. Some analysts suggest that these prices are being inflated artificially in expectation of new reform that could otherwise reduce prescription drug prices. A similar trend was observed just before Medicare Part D took effect.
Just last week, an economist at the University of Minnesota said:
Curiously, prescription drug prices appear to rise more rapidly in periods just prior to major policy changes. Brand-name and specialty drug prices accelerated before the Medicare Part D program was enacted and implemented.
That is what we are talking about here.
This amendment would allow U.S. licensed pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import FDA-approved medications from Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan and then pass on the savings to consumers.
Real health care reform requires real changes from business as usual. This amendment would start to bring some real changes—opening up new choices to American consumers and injecting new competition into the pharmaceutical marketplace.
I yield the floor.