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A Common Sense Way to Lower Drug Prices

A number of important bills to reduce drug prices are working their way through Congress. But they are not the only way to ease this crisis and help millions of Americans. This week Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter observing that the Trump administration already has significant authority to bring down prescription drug costs. Executive officials should take advantage of this common sense tool to control drug prices and make the market work.

This letter was written as administration officials are considering executive orders or regulations to clamp down on rising drug costs. The three Senators sent the letter to Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and laid out several important steps that do not require Congress’s approval. Mulvaney also remarked last week that he was talking with Trump and other officials about reforms. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has been holding listening sessions to consider possible solutions.

These efforts are most welcome and hopefully a sign that the administration is serious. We have written previously about actions the administration could take to import prescription drugs from abroad, if it wanted to. In the letter, the Senators urge the administration to allow the FDA to import less expensive drugs from Canada. The FDA can permit pharmacists and retailers to bring in these drugs and issue waivers to individuals, allowing them to be brought in for personal use. But in order to do this, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has to certify that the imported prescription drugs pose no risk to Americans’ health and safety, and that they would significantly reduce costs for consumers.

Both conditions are easily met. The FDA is quite able to ensure imported drugs are safe, and consumers in Canada pay much less than consumers in America. The only reason drugs are not already imported is that Big Pharma has fought tooth and nail against this, spreading rumors and making exaggerated warnings. There is no substance behind this parade of horribles.

The letter concludes with a call to allow the immediate importation of prescription drugs under the following conditions: 1) if the drug’s patent is expired or it is no longer marketed by the company that developed it, 2) there have been substantial increases in the drug’s price, 3) there is no competitor drug in the market and the introduction of a competitor drug would lower prices and help taxpayers and consumers, and 4) the drug is made in another country by the brand manufacturer that initially developed it or by a well-known generic manufacturer.

This power to bring down drug prices and pressure companies into making drugs more affordable already exists. The administration just needs to have the will to wield it. We hope they will use it soon; Americans have endured price gouging by drug companies for far too long.

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