Cantwell, Jayapal Introduce Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act to Help Lower Skyrocketing Cost of Medicine

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans could not afford the medicine they were prescribed at some point in their lives

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) joined Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), and 28 other members of Congress in introducing legislation in the House and Senate to lower the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs by allowing Americans to import safe, low-cost medicine from Canada.

Both measures would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services in two years to allow importation from other advanced countries while ensuring the highest levels of safety and consumer protections.

In Canada and other major countries, the same medications are available for a fraction of the price compared to the United States, despite being manufactured by the same company and in the same factory. In 2014, Americans spent on average $1,112 per person on prescription drugs while Canadians spent $772 and Danes spent $325.

"Washingtonians want access to more affordable prescription drugs from Canada. Under this legislation's new and stringent drug safety requirements, Americans will have more choice and affordability. This legislation also includes important new penalties to crack down on the illegal importation of opioids and other illicit drugs,” said Senator Cantwell.

“Drug prices have soared over the years, making it essentially impossible for patients to access necessary, lifesaving medicine,” said Rep. Jayapal. “In some cases, people have to choose between paying for their medicine and putting food on their table. The only ones who benefit from this situation are the large pharmaceutical companies who profit from people’s pain. This is atrocious. No one should have to make that kind of a choice. I’m proud to join my colleagues in supporting this bill, and ensuring that everyone has access to low-cost, life-saving medicine.”  

The legislation, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, introduced in the Senate and House, would instruct the secretary of Health and Human Services to put forward regulations allowing wholesalers, pharmacies, and individuals to import qualifying prescription drugs from licensed Canadian sellers. After two years, the secretary would have the authority to permit importation from countries in the Organizations for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with standards for the approval and sale of prescription drugs that are comparable to those in the United States.

The bill includes detailed provisions outlining safeguards and consumer protections that ensure the safety of imported drugs, including FDA certification of foreign sellers, a clear definition of what drugs may be imported, and supply chain security requirements. 

Legally imported drugs under the bill must be purchased from an FDA-certified foreign seller and must have the same active ingredient, route of administration, and strength as drugs approved in the United States. The new agreement also cracks down on rogue online pharmacies.

Allowing the importation of safe and affordable prescription drugs is overwhelmingly supported by the American people with 71 percent in favor of allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada.

In addition to allowing Americans to import safe, low-cost medicine from Canada, Cantwell and Jayapal both support giving Medicare the ability to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries as an additional way to lower drug costs.

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are original co-sponsors of the legislation in the Senate.

Original co-sponsors in the House include: Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Robert Brady (D-PA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Peter Welch (D-VT), Ed Blumenauer (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Jim Langevin (D-RI).

Organizations supporting the bill include: Alliance for Retired Americans, American Federation of Teachers, Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA), CREDO, DailyKos, Economic Policy Institute, Justice in Aging, MoveOn, NAACP, National Center for Health Research, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Organization for Women, PharmacyChecker.com, Prescription Justice, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, RxRights, and Social Security Works.

For a summary of the bill and background, click here.

To read the bill, click here.