Michigan residents could see big savings if prescription importation bill passes

click to enlarge A new bill could allow Michigan residents to purchase prescription medications from Canada. - Shutterstock
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A new bill could allow Michigan residents to purchase prescription medications from Canada.

A bipartisan bill before the Legislature would allow Michigan residents to purchase pharmaceuticals from Canada, where prices are far lower.

If passed, patients could save anywhere from 50% to 80% on treatments ranging from diabetes to blood clots or allergies.

Melissa Seifert, associate state director for government affairs at AARP Michigan, said before the U.S.-Canada border closure due to COVID-19, many individuals in the Great Lakes State would travel to Canada to buy prescription drugs out-of-pocket rather than going through their insurance at home.

"These prices are crippling older adults who are living on a fixed income," Seifert asserted. "These prescriptions don't work if you can't afford to take them. And we're seeing that more and more amongst older adults."

Seifert pointed to data that showed EpiPens, for example, cost more than $600 in the U.S. but are less than half that price in Canada. Xarelto, a drug for treating blood clots, and Januvia, for Type 2 diabetes, both cost more than $1,300 in the U.S., but both less than $500 in Canada.

Seifert contended one of the driving factors is drug companies in the U.S. set their own prices.

"Drug companies hold the patent, right?" Seifert explained. "So they're able to extend their patents for 20 years at a time by making very small changes to the prescription drug."

She emphasized most countries don't allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise. In the U.S. they spend about $6 billion a year.

Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, the bill's sponsor, noted it follows federal FDA regulations. A rule finalized by the agency last year paves the way for programs to import certain drugs, as long as there is no risk to anyone's health or safety.

"We already have the federal piece in place," Johnson stressed. "We need to push this really hard, and we need to all do it together. It's nonpartisan; it just helps people."

Johnson added despite support from Republican and Democratic members of the Legislature, the pharmaceutical industry is lobbying hard against it. But she argued the benefits to consumers are worth it, and she urged residents to contact their legislators to express support.

Originally published July 16, 2021 by Michigan News Connection. It is republished here with permission.

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