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Lowering Drug Prices for Non-Medicare Patients

Lowering Drug Prices for Non-Medicare Patients

All of the talk about a potential Medicare drug benefit has overshadowed the question of what can be done to lower drug costs for non Medicare patients, who, after all, constitute the majority in this country. With this in mind, Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt) escorted five Vermont seniors, some of them breast cancer patients, over his state’s border with Canada to buy tamoxifen (Nolvadex) and other drugs. The cancer patients purchased a month’s supply of tamoxifen for $12.80. The same quantity would have cost $156.42 in the United States. The Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA) prohibits US wholesalers, pharmacies, or individuals from buying drugs abroad. That is why Sanders introduced H.R. 1885, a bill that would allow wholesalers and pharmacies to buy US- approved drugs from foreign companies as long as those drugs have been manufactured at a facility approved by the FDA.

Rumor has it that Sanders wants to run in 2000 for the Senate seat now occupied by Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.). That may have spurred Jeffords to introduce his own bill (S. 1462) in July. That bill allows individuals to buy drugs in bulk in Canada. Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for PhRMA, the drug manufacturers association, calls the Sanders’ bill a “cuckoo, cuckoo idea.” He explains that the import prohibition was supported by a bipartisan majority of Congress when it was added to the PDMA in 1988 out of concerns for both the quality of drugs manufactured outside of the United States and the possibility of counterfeiting.

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