Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should Congress Remove Barriers to Consumers Who Want to Use Online Pharmacies? Yes: We Must Tear Down the Wall of Exorbitant Pharmaceutical Prices So Seniors Can Afford Prescriptions

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should Congress Remove Barriers to Consumers Who Want to Use Online Pharmacies? Yes: We Must Tear Down the Wall of Exorbitant Pharmaceutical Prices So Seniors Can Afford Prescriptions

Article excerpt

Byline: Rep. Dan Burton, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

Drug expenses have been the fastest-growing component of health-care costs during recent years, climbing more than 17 percent annually from 1998 to 2001. That is twice the growth rate of health costs in general, and five times the growth rate of inflation.

Americans pay higher prices for their prescription drugs than the residents of every other country in the world. This is especially burdensome for our aging population. Approximately 108 million older Americans manage at least one chronic health condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure. Seventy-five percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 are on at least one prescription drug, and 14 percent of women age 65 are on five prescription drugs in any given week.

Tragically, however, more than one in five American adults can't take their drugs as prescribed because of the prohibitive cost. This figure is as high as 40 percent for some groups, including many retired, disabled, minority and low-income Americans.

Far too many people must choose between filling their prescriptions or buying food. No American should have to make that choice.

For too long, the federal government has stood between Americans and affordable prescription drugs. Congress must act this year by directing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow the safe importation of FDA-approved pharmaceuticals.

Large pharmaceutical manufacturers such as GlaxoSmithKline (Glaxo) long have been gouging American consumers by charging substantially more in some cases up to five times as much for their prescription drugs sold in the United States than those sold in Canada and other industrialized countries. American consumers are fed up, and they are finding importation to be a viable alternative to paying the outrageous markup costs.

Ada Shaum of Indianapolis is a classic example of the growing number of Hoosiers back in my district who are taking advantage of importation. She is a senior who takes warfarin and Zocor. Shaum was spending $172 per month to fill her prescriptions. She now imports these same FDA-approved drugs at a cost of $81 per month, for a savings of $91.

Shaum's experience is representative of the savings that seniors across the nation are enjoying. Although $91 per month might not seem like much to pharmaceutical executives with seven-figure incomes, generous stock options and golden parachutes, to seniors living on fixed incomes it can be the difference between despair and dignity.

Shaum is not alone. Dr. Elizabeth Wennar of the United Health Alliance (UHA) has testified before Congress that more than 1 million Americans currently are importing their prescription drugs from Canada. The FDA estimates that more than 2 million shipments of prescription drugs will cross the border from Canada to the United States this year alone.

While these Americans are saving 30 to 60 percent on their pharmaceuticals, they are treated as common criminals because Congress has done nothing to clarify the legality of importation.

Shaum is risking potential FDA prosecution in order to sustain her health. She should not be branded as a common criminal because Congress stands between her and the opportunity to purchase pharmaceuticals at world-market prices. Americans such as Shaum can buy imported meat and vegetables in a free-market environment. Shouldn't they be able to purchase their medications in a free market as well?

Several years ago, Congress passed the Medicine Equity and Drug Safety Act, which was supposed to allow U.S. wholesalers, pharmacists and individuals to import lower-cost prescription drugs from abroad. Unfortunately, the promise of this legislation has gone unfulfilled because of loopholes added at the request of the pharmaceutical industry.

The result? Americans still pay the highest prescription-drug prices in the world. …

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