The US-Canadian border, where hundreds of billions of dollars in goods and services are traded freely between countries each year, is a critical lifeline for the North American economy. But the same porous divide marks the line between life and death for millions of Americans, thanks to drug monopolies holding them hostage to brutally overpriced medicines.
Though Congress has resisted reform for years, public outrage over the industry’s profiteering is rising as volatile drug markets have priced both insured patients and the uninsured poor out of essential medicines. Now that Trumpcare threatens to further deregulate the health-care industry, progressive lawmakers hope to chip away at Big Pharma’s monopoly by turning north.
Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill that would allow Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada, provided that they meet US regulatory standards. The bill could start to transform the process by which Americans get their medicine, substantially lowering drug costs for both individuals and insurance providers, including many working poor families and older consumers on Medicaid and Medicare.
Because Canada, like virtually every other wealthy industrialized nation, offers comprehensive universal health-care coverage, Canadians generally pay much lower prices for medicines overall than their southern neighbors. US consumers, who are locked in Big Pharma’s captive market, pay brutally inflated costs through insurance or out of pocket—for drugs that Canadians can buy at a fraction of the price.
The Improving Access To Affordable Prescription Drugs Act (with a companion bill in the House) would give Americans access to Canada’s cheaper drugs by allowing cross-border retail purchase and imports of medicines. The measure could save consumers as much as 35 to 55 percent of the usual US list price. For example, the popular cholesterol drug Lipitor can cost Canadian patients under $50, compared to more than $150 for the same dose sold on the US market.
Though the measure would only curb one source of health-care inflation, and though Canadian market access would still be restricted under the law, granting more consumers access to a rationally priced market (with the possibility of adding more countries’ markets later on), could start to chip away at Big Pharma’s market stranglehold and spur campaigns for more broad-based health-care restructuring. Predictably, the pharmaceutical industry lobby is smearing the measure by painting it as “government interference in prescription drug pricing.”