With the holiday season upon us, I decided I need a new way to make my case for bringing down the prices Americans pay for their prescription drugs. This year I’m going with Dickens. I mean, if Ebenezer Scrooge can be transformed from a crotchety, thoughtless, “bah humbug” miser to a generous steward of good will to all after only one night of ghostly visits, certainly there is hope for Congress.
But first there must be some ghosts.
Number one? The ghost of Christmas past. Last Christmas, the cost of common brand-name drugs often used by seniors rose 13 percent over the year before, according to a report by AARP. That’s more than eight times the rate of inflation.
Number two? The ghost of Christmas present. America spends approximately 40 percent more than the next highest-priced country and twice as much on prescription drugs as countries like France and Germany. Bottom line: American consumers are getting Scrooged.
And number three? The ghost of Christmas yet to come. If Congress continues to sit on its hands and the drug companies continue to stash cash in their stockings, Americans will be forever bound in the Jacob Marley-like chains of high prices.
But there is another way. And here are three wise solutions that could unlock a future of more affordable drugs.
First, pass the bipartisan legislation that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and I have introduced to allow the safe import of prescription drugs from Canada. The Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act would require the Federal Drug Administration to establish a personal importation program that would allow individuals to import a 90-day supply of prescription drugs from an approved Canadian pharmacy.
In Minnesota, we actually do have residents who can see Canada from their porch — and Canadians often pay less for prescription drugs than we do. In 2012, average prescription drug prices in Canada were half what they were in the United States — a price gap that has expanded significantly over the last 10 years.
Take these examples. In the United States, a 90-day supply of an anti-inflammatory drug called Celebrex costs about $875. In Canada, that exact same drug is only $278 — 70 percent less. Or the drug Nexium for acid reflux disease, which costs $812 in the United States for a 90-day supply, but only $300 in Canada — 63 percent less.
To be clear, these are the exact same drugs with the same safety standards and the same dosages that are sold in the United States. Yet under current law, families aren’t allowed to realize the savings.
Second — and not passing this one is surely going to point Congress toward a fog-shrouded graveyard — enact the bill Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and I introduced to crack down on illegal “pay-for-delay” deals that prevent less-expensive generic drugs from entering the market. The bill gives the Federal Trade Commission greater ability to block anti-competitive settlement agreements in which brand-name drug companies pay cheaper generic companies to not sell their products. It is estimated that limiting pay-for-delay settlements would increase the availability of lower-priced generic drugs and generate over $4.7 billion in budget savings, while saving consumers $3.5 billion each year.
Finally, we should allow our seniors to get the benefits of price negotiation for prescription drugs. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the pharmaceutical companies can currently negotiate drug prices, but the law bans Medicare from doing so. This makes no sense. I have put forward legislation that would allow Medicare to advocate for the lowest price, cutting costs for 37 million seniors and boosting Medicare savings.
Three ghosts. Three wise ideas. And, as Tiny Tim has been known to say, “God bless us everyone.”
Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.