Maine lawmakers were just introduced to a new bill aimed at bringing prescription drug prices in the state under control. The bill, which seeks to limit the amount state agencies, health plans, and other organizations pay for 250 of the most expensive prescription medications, is being touted by sponsors as the best tool available. Interestingly enough, Canada will play a role in the implementation of the bill should it become law.
Most of the people who offered comments about the bill during a recent hearing are in favor of it. The bill is obviously opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, a small number of insurance carriers and, surprisingly, Maine superintendent of insurance Eric Cioppa.
Prices Cheaper in Canada
If you haven’t already guessed, the primary impetus behind the bill is the reality that prescription drug prices tend to be much cheaper in Canada. The Portland Press Herald cites the example of medications for chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis costing thousands of dollars in Maine. Cross the border into Canada and those same medications are sold at a fraction of the cost.
There are a number of reasons explaining the price disparities. For the purposes of this post, they do not matter much. What matters is that Maine lawmakers are being asked to pass a bill that ties state drug prices to Canadian prices for the same medications.
What the Law Requires
Should the bill become law, it will compel the state superintendent of insurance to set prescription medication price limits each year based on the average cost of those same drugs in Canada the previous year. The goal is to make sure that Maine residents do not pay any more inside the state than they would if they purchased the medications from Canada.
The legislation makes sense from the consumer’s standpoint. If Maine residents have to choose between prescription medications and paying their other bills, there is no guarantee they will choose the former. In fact, some of the people who commented at the recent hearing spoke about having to choose between medications and food.
On a similar note, the legislation also makes sense from a business standpoint. Would it be better for state residents to purchase their medications from local pharmacies rather than shopping online with Canadian pharmacies? Isn’t it wiser to keep the money here in the States?
The Demand Is There
Canada Pharmacy is an online pharmacy property that sells prescription medications to U.S. customers. It is one of the more successful online Canadian pharmacies out there. But guess what? Canada Pharmacy is not alone. There are many, many others for the simple fact that the market is there.
Whether Maine legislators pass the bill or not, state residents are going to buy their prescription medications from the cheapest possible source. If that source happens to be a Canadian pharmacy, so be it. Therefore, it makes sense for the law to tie prescription drug price limits to Canadian prices. Canada is the cheapest competing source of prescription medications. The bill takes that into account.
If the Bill Fails
There are no guarantees that the bill will make it past Maine lawmakers. If it fails, state residents will still have to choose between buying their medications from U.S. pharmacies or crossing the border to get their medications in Canada. Perhaps lawmakers would take up a similar bill in the future, but that could depend heavily on the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying efforts.
Either way, we will still have a prescription drug problem here in the States. It is a problem that will eventually have to be solved if we want our healthcare system to continue being one of the best in the world. Otherwise, we stand to price ourselves out of the competition.