Reports that it could cost as much as $723 billion dollars to fund the new Medicare drug benefit scheme over the next ten years – significantly more than the original estimate of $400 billion in 2003 – have met with strong criticism across the USA.

Californian representative, Pete Stark, called for an amended bill that would give the Health Secretary the power to negotiate lower drug prices as a means of decreasing the overall cost of the drug benefit, while a group of US senators have taken the opportunity to once again urge Congress to adopt legislation that would allow US citizens to buy cheaper medicines from across the border in Canada. North Dakota senator, Byron Dorgan, and Maine senator, Olympia Snowe, introduced a revised version of their bipartisan drug importation bill [[22/04/04b]], [[27/01/05g]], which is backed by 25 other members of the Senate.

“Miracle drugs provide no miracles for those who can’t afford them,” senator Dorgan said in a statement. “By providing access to safe, lower-priced prescription medicines from Canada and other countries, we will save lives and enhance the quality of life for millions of Americans.” His comments were echoed by senator Snowe, who said: “The human cost of skyrocketing prescription drug prices is seen every day in our nation’s hospitals… With the cost of prescription drugs rising at two to three times the rate of inflation, the need to secure affordable drugs is no longer deniable, and the status quo is no longer defendable.”

Under their proposals, it would be legal to import drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration from countries deemed to have a regulatory system comparable to that in the US. Also, imported drugs would be tracked, examined, and properly labelled by licensed pharmacists, with anti-counterfeiting measures being employed to secure the drug supply. Improved labelling requirements would make tracking and recalls far more effective.

They believe that this legislation offers an achievable approach that answers many of the safety concerns that have been raised by the FDA and drug companies in the past. They also claim that opening the US market up to price competition from abroad will exert downward pressure on drug prices, and will also have a beneficial impact on taxpayers.