Editorial: Prescription drug bill is the right medicine

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2003

When pharmaceutical companies spent millions lobbying against a bill that would open up U.S. borders to prescription-drug imports, it illustrated what’s wrong with the industry. Drug makers are more worried about protecting their own bottom line than keeping prices reasonable for consumers.

Guess who will pay the cost of all that lobbying? People who buy medicines. Just like they pay for billions in advertising by drug companies looking to increase use of their products and make the maximum buck before generic alternatives are available.

It’s no wonder these companies fear the legislation, which was chiefly written by Rochester Republican Gil Gutknecht, who represents southern Minnesota. It would allow U.S. consumers access to much cheaper prescriptions, like those that are sold in Canada and the European Union. Faced with competition that could undercut them, they might actually have to make their drugs more affordable.

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That’s not what they say, of course. Their standard objection is that the drugs coming from outside the country could be unsafe. But the bill specifies that the drugs can only come from FDA-approved facilities, and must be shipped in anti-tampering and anti-counterfeit packaging.

Anyway, the best outcome will not be if Americans start getting more and more drugs from foreign countries, but if the competition forces domestic companies to keep their prices under control. The Senate must still vote on its version of the Gutknecht bill, and it’s looking now like it might not pass. Even if that happens, Congress should continue pursuing a solution that will let Americans have access to needed medicines without taking out a second mortgage to pay for them.