Let’s open door to Canada for lower medicine prices

Many New Mexico families can’t afford the medication they need and either forgo filling their prescription drugs or end up rationing them to make their prescription last longer. Across the nation, a quarter of all Americans report difficulty paying for their prescription drugs. People are forced with difficult choices like purchasing groceries or life-saving medication.

It’s even more difficult for the elderly. Yet, it’s where we are today because the retail price of prescription drugs commonly used by older Americans has continued to increase faster than inflation, according to a new analysis from AARP. In fact, drug prices in the United States are almost four times higher than average drug prices in similar countries.

If there were something we could do about reducing prescription drug prices in New Mexico, would we do it?

In late December 2019, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and its Food and Drug Administration released the Safe Importation Action Plan, including a notice of proposed rulemaking to enable the wholesale importation of prescription drugs from Canada by U.S. states.

There’s a bill in the New Mexico Legislature that gives New Mexico the authority to establish a wholesale drug importation program. Senate Bill 1 would authorize the New Mexico Department of Health to develop a plan and become one of the early states to apply for federal approval to import wholesale drugs from Canada – thereby reducing the cost of many prescription drugs and passing that savings on to New Mexicans. It unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, 35-0.

Vermont, Maine, Colorado and Florida have already passed similar legislation, and many other states – Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Oregon and Virginia – are exploring similar options. New Mexico has an opportunity to do the same and be one of the early states to gain access to many prescription medications at a lower cost.

In New Mexico, what is most frightening is that people who need their medication the most have the biggest difficulty paying for it. Our state has the third highest rate in the nation of people living at or below the federal poverty level. We need to do everything we can for New Mexicans to have access to lower-priced prescription drug medication.

Passage of SB 1 would be the first step for creating a wholesale prescription drug importation program that could generate substantial savings. It would start by forming a Prescription Drug Importation Advisory Committee that would advise DOH on the development and implementation of a wholesale prescription drug importation program that complies with all applicable federal statutory requirements, including requirements regarding cost and safety.

The advisory committee would be chaired by the DOH Secretary and its membership would include the secretary of the Human Services Department, the superintendent of Insurance, the Board of Pharmacy, and the secretary of the General Services Department (GSD). The advisory committee would work with DOH to design a wholesale drug importation program, which would submit a formal request to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for certification of the state’s program by Dec. 15. Once the program was certified by HHS, the program would begin implementing and operating within six months.

New Mexicans have an opportunity to benefit from Canada’s lower prescription drug prices. Passage of SB 1 is the first step. We can do something to address the high cost of medications. It’s imperative that we take it. We should do whatever we can to lower the cost of prescription medications for New Mexico families. Let’s make New Mexico the next state that has the authority to establish a wholesale prescription drug importation program so that the people who need medication in our state can afford it. Call your legislators and urge them to support SB 1 during this legislative session.

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