Legislation has been introduced into the US Congress which would allow older people to buy their prescription medicines in cheaper overseas markets and require the federal Medicare programme - which provides health care for seniors and the disabled - to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.

The Medicare Drugs For Seniors (MEDS) Act (HR 6800), which has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Democrat Dennis Kucinich, would also impose limits on the prices which drugmakers would be allowed to charge for their products if the R&D which led to the drugs’ discovery had been financed “by taxpayers’ dollars.”

This is a “common-sense bill. Medicare beneficiaries want their prescription drugs without having to navigate complicated maze of choices and stealth loopholes. They want a plan that will not drive them into bankruptcy,” said Rep Kucinich, who added that other features of his bill include “no premiums, no co-pays and no deductibles for drugs required by Medicare recipients.”

Last month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released an analysis, prepared at the request of Rep Kucinich and other Committee members, which showed that pharmaceuticals covered under the Medicare prescription drug programme - which was introduced in January 2006 and is known as Part D - cost 30% more than medicines provided through Medicaid, which covers people on low incomes. Medicaid’s programme is administered by the federal government while Medicare Part D uses private insurance companies.

According to the study, 29 large drugmakers which produce the 100 drugs used most often by “dual-eligibles” (people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid) received at least $3.7 billion more from the Medicare Part D insurers in 2006 and 2007 than they would have if these beneficiaries had obtained their drugs through Medicaid.

“The privatized drug plan has been given a chance and, as predicted, it has failed. There is no reason for us to keep throwing money at a bad idea when we know we can save taxpayers billions of dollars and give seniors the medication they need,” said Rep Kucinich.