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Washington, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing today to discuss the issue of prescription drug re-importation and its potential impact on consumers.

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., a senior member of the committee, issued the following statement:

Senator Michael B. Enzi
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Hearing on "Importation of Prescription Drugs"
May 20, 2004

Importing prescription drugs from other countries will not solve the problem of rising drug prices. I won't support drug importation until we can ensure that the drugs that are imported are safe, effective, and will not compromise the integrity of our nation's prescription drug supply or our world-leading pharmaceutical research.

Today, millions of Americans import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, or purchase drugs from Internet pharmacies that operate from outside the United States. These Americans are taking their lives in their hands by going outside our closed drug distribution system and obtaining their prescription medicines from pharmacies and Internet sites that don't meet the high standards that we require domestically.

Right now, the federal government and state governments are looking the other way. We're not enforcing the laws on our books that prohibit drug importation, and we're just crossing our fingers and hoping that no one gets hurt. Some state and local governments are actually encouraging their employees and citizens to import drugs from Canada, while disclaiming any liability if someone is injured or dies as a result of taking unregulated imported drugs.

We can't keep this up indefinitely, so I commend Chairman Gregg for calling this hearing to consider the complex issues involved in opening our borders to imported prescription drugs. If the Senate is going to amend our laws to permit drug importation, the process must begin in this Committee. As the Committee begins to consider drug importation, I look forward to questioning our witnesses about some of the issues that concern me.

As we look into this issue, we must keep in mind that, whatever we decide to do on the importation of drugs, it won't make a big difference in how much we spend on our medications. The reason for that is simple. Canada's pharmaceutical market is less than one-tenth the size of ours. Our market is larger than the combined markets of Canada and all of Europe. We simply can't import enough medications from these price-controlled countries to make a significant impact on prices here, as the Congressional Budget Office has pointed out.

Clearly, there are many other ways for us to help Americans and keep their prescription medications available and affordable.

First, we need to set aside the politics of Medicare and work together to help seniors choose the Medicare drug discount card that is right for them. Low-income seniors especially deserve our help, since will receive up to $600 in credit on their cards in 2004 and 2005 to help them pay for their prescriptions. Many of the cards are free, so there's no good reason why a senior shouldn't sign up for a drug discount card, which could save them from 20 to 35 percent off the retail prices of the medications they need.

Second, most of the major pharmaceutical companies have special patient-assistance programs for low-income Americans without health insurance. These noteworthy programs offer a supply of free or low-cost drugs to people who would otherwise not be able to afford their much-needed medications, and these programs are available to people of any age, not just seniors. Each of the manufacturers has its own program application, however, which complicates the sign-up process for patients who need drugs made by a number of different companies. The major pharmaceutical companies could help patients in need get into their patient-assistance programs more quickly if they were to develop a single uniform application and a simplified and streamlined application process.

Third, people should ask their pharmacists about generic drugs. The generic drugs available in the United States have the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts. They also are manufactured in FDA-inspected facilities, just like brand-name drugs. The difference is that generics usually cost from 30 to 60 percent less than their equivalent brand-name drugs. Nationwide, every one-percent increase in the utilization of generic drugs yields $1.16 billion in savings in prescription drug costs per year.

Fourth, the Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured recently recommended expanding the federal program that makes deeply discounted drugs available to patients of "safety-net" clinics and other healthcare facilities. Enacting this proposal would expand access to low-cost drugs for people who rely on our healthcare safety net.

Fifth, we need to eliminate unfair trade practices such as the drug price controls that many foreign governments employ, which force the American consumer to shoulder the burden of paying for the pharmaceutical research that benefits all consumers worldwide.

Those are just five ways that American citizens, pharmaceutical companies, and Congress could take action to make prescription drugs more affordable to more people. None of these ideas would require us to institute or import foreign price controls, nor would they threaten the safety of our drug distribution system, as I'm afraid some of the legislative proposals introduced in this session of Congress would do.

Again, I commend Chairman Gregg for calling this hearing. If the Senate is to allow for the importation of prescription drugs, we ought not to rush this process to meet an artificial political timetable. The importation of prescription drugs raises serious questions about the safety of our nation's drug supply and our ability to continue to reap the benefits of American pharmaceutical research and development. If we're going to open our borders to imported prescription drugs, we had better be certain about exactly what we're doing and how we're going to do it.