Health and Human Services

Lower prescription drug costs sought

A bill that would create a framework for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada to Nebraska was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee Jan. 25.

Sen. Tom Briese
Sen. Tom Briese

LB200, introduced by Albion Sen. Tom Briese, would create the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Act. Under the bill, the state Department of Health and Human Services would be required to submit a request to the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services for approval of the program by Sept. 1, 2024. The program would start no later than six months after receiving federal approval.

Briese said a 2019 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11.4 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 did not take their prescription drugs as prescribed in an attempt to reduce how much they spent on medication. LB200 would help provide Nebraskans access to safe, more cost effective prescription drugs, he said.

“In 2020, patented drug prices in the U.S. averaged 3.57 times higher than Canadian drugs,” Briese said. “For many folks in Nebraska, being able to afford their medication really is a matter of life or death.”

Among other provisions, the bill would require that:
• a surety bond of at least $250,000 be held by each vendor;
• vendors seeking to import Canadian prescriptions identify medications with the highest potential cost savings;
• the department review the drug importation list every three months and set a maximum profit margin for vendors;
• vendors ensure that a statistically valid sample of each shipment is tested for authenticity and degradation; and
• the department report annually on the program to the Legislature and the governor.

Jina Ragland from AARP Nebraska testified in support of LB200. She said that between 2015 and 2019, the average cost of prescription drug treatment in Nebraska increased 26.3 percent, while the average income for Nebraskans increased only 10.4 percent over the same period.

“It’s no secret the U.S. pays the highest price for prescription drugs in the world,” Ragland said. “[LB200] is not a complete solution … but safe and legal importation would be a step forward in putting downward pressure on the prices.”

Also testifying in support of the bill was John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. Nebraskans need prescription drug markets that are accessible, transparent, competitive and fair, he said. The obvious difference between the price structure of prescription drugs in the U.S. and Canada needs to be evaluated, he added.

“We are talking about, in some cases, the same manufacturers but at significantly different price points,” Hansen said.

Testifying in opposition to LB200 was Marcia Mueting, CEO of the Nebraska Pharmacists Association. Mueting expressed concern that objections to such programs from the Canadian government and Canadian drug regulators would expose Nebraska patients to unsafe medications.

“Canada implemented a regulation blocking any bulk export of medication that would have the potential to create a shortage of drugs in Canada,” she said. “I’m concerned that any attempt to implement the plan outlined in LB200 would create significant risk of exposing Nebraska patients to substandard and counterfeit medications.”

The committee took no immediate action on LB200.

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