Last January, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders introduced a budget amendment just before Barack Obama left office. It would have allowed Americans to purchase drugs from Canada for a lower price than they might find the same drug in the United States. Maybe you remember it best by all of the (slightly misleading) memes that circulated the web, decrying the 13 Democrats who voted against it.
That proposal is back. It’s now called the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act. Actually, it’s been back since February, but it was referred to the Senate Health Committee almost immediately. And now that it’s a standalone piece of legislation, rather than a simple amendment, after months of waiting, it’s finally been scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. A scoring from the CBO, as you may remember from the latest GOP effort to yank healthcare away from millions of Americans, is when they estimate what a bill would either cost or save the federal government. And this one is a doozy.
According to the CBO estimate, the legislation would curtail over $5.1 billion in spending and would increase revenue by over $1.6 billion. That’s a net positive of over $6.7 billion that the government would save by passing the bill. There really isn’t a lot to argue against.
Drug manufacturers, as the law now stands, are allowed to make their drugs internationally, where they can save substantial money on labor costs. Those foreign-made drugs are then imported into the U.S., where they are sold at much higher prices than the same drugs are sold anywhere else in the world. All because the law allows it. By contrast, drug consumers and wholesalers in this country are not permitted to purchase those drugs from outside the United States — they must pay the higher prices here. It’s been justified by arguing that standards aren’t as high elsewhere in the world and that imported drugs (manufactured to, say, Canadian standards) aren’t as safe as those governed by U.S. regulations. But with FDA-approved overseas manufacturers, like an amendment by Bob Casey and Elizabeth Warren called for, those concerns could be dismissed.
This legislation could accomplish a few different things. First, it would provide Democrats a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that they are not in the pocket of “Big Pharma,” as many alleged after the failure of January’s amendment. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it’s an effort that has extensive bipartisan support — if Republicans, who now control every facet of government, really want a legislative win on health care, this would be an excellent place to start.
Let’s hope that this bill, along with Bernie’s upcoming legislation calling for single-payer, starts the healthcare debate again on a better foot.
Featured image via Bill Pugliano/Getty Images