Will importing drugs save U.S. costs?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Dec 16, 2009
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Will importing drugs save U.S. costs?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Dec 16, 2009
HTML EMBED:
COPY

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: For a good three hours on the floor of the United States Senate today, this was the sound of the health-care debate:

Bernie Sanders: Section 1514, payments for prescription drugs. A, establishment of lists. One, in general, the boards shall establish…

Republicans used Senate rules to slow things down and force a page-by-page reading of a proposed amendment by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders today. Sanders eventually gave up and pulled his 776-page amendment before it could be voted down.

Among the amendments that actually have been voted down is one that would have let Americans import lower-cost prescription drugs from other countries. Seeing as how part of the original premise for a health-care overhaul was to make things cheaper, we asked Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer what the decision is going to cost.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The Congressional Budget Office estimates the U.S. government could save almost $20 billion on its drug costs over the next 10 years if it could import prescription drugs. Other estimates say consumers would save $80 billion if they could buy their drugs from countries, like Canada, where they’re much cheaper.

Larry McNeely is the health-care advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

LARRY MCNEELY: You could see some drugs going for literally a fraction — a tenth of what they’re charged here in the United States.

Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders says you can fill a Lipitor prescription in Canada for $33. In the U.S., the same prescription costs $125. But the Senate voted down an amendment to the health-care overhaul that would have allowed the U.S. to import drugs approved by the FDA. McNeely says that’s because of the lobbying muscle of the pharmaceutical industry.

MCNEELY: Pharma is powerful enough to deny the success of a number of major pieces of legislation.

The drug industry has been generally supportive of a health-care overhaul because it cut a deal with the Obama administration that it would give up no more than $80 billion in revenue over 10 years. Drug importation would have cost it billions more. White House critics say the industry got a sweetheart deal.

But University of Michigan economist Erik Gordon says President Obama needs the drug companies’ support to get any kind of an overhaul at all.

ERIK GORDON: I think what he’s trying to do is come up with something that’s workable.

Even if it doesn’t get you Lipitor for $33.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.