Emerson's bill would level costs of drugs

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

When Americans -- especially our senior citizens -- realize they are forced to pay 30 to 50 percent more for prescription medicines than consumers in other countries, it must truly be a bitter pill.

But that's exactly what has been happening since 1988, when a law was passed to make it illegal for pharmacies and wholesalers to reimport prescription drugs from other countries, even if those drugs were made here in the United States in FDA-approved facilities before being sold overseas.

It is still legal, however, for pharmaceutical companies to reimport drugs, creating an industry that is pocketing one of the largest profit margins of any in the country.

In the spirit of free enterprise, American consumers would have choices about where to purchase their medications and what prices they are willing pay under the legislation offered by U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

Emerson says she is tired of the inequites create by the current system.

Her 8th District, which includes Southeast Missouri and stretches to near Springfield, has the largest percentage of seniors and the highest percentage of Medicare patients in the state.

Going against the leadership in her party, she is seeking to level the playing field and, in doing so, bring prescription costs back down to manageable levels.

She is co-sponsoring a bill called the Prescription Drug Price Reduction Act, which would allow pharmacists and wholesalers to import American-made prescription medicines from a specific list of foreign markets including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany, France and Italy.

The pharmaceutical industry counters that these drugs should not be considered safe once they leave this country's borders and should not be allowed back in. It is doubtful that they make those same claims to the overseas buyers of their drugs.

The drug companies also say there are concerns about counterfeiters and untested substances being placed in the drugs.

These drugs are made by Americans in American factories according to American standards with American consumer protections. Concerns about safety are unproved, especially since millions of U.S. consumers already buy these pills on the Internet or by taking bus trips to Canada in defiance of current law.

The legislation Emerson is sponsoring even adds safeguards to protect the integrity of the drugs with special packaging with the same technology that makes the counterfeiting of U.S. currency almost impossible these days. The law also forbids reimporting drugs from places where drug counterfeiting is rampant, such as South America.

Emerson's bill is the right approach.

Something has to be done about the escalating cost of prescription medications. This bill would level the field so Americans can choose from a variety of sources where to get prescription drugs.

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