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Ellis, Hochberg Bill Would Allow Prescription Drug Purchases From Canada

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Safe access to low-cost pharmaceuticals is the goal of legislation filed today by Houston Democrats Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Scott Hochberg.

SB 518 by Ellis and its companion, HB 173 by Hochberg , would allow for the sale and shipment of prescription drugs from Canada directly to Texas, explained Ellis at a press conference today, as long as the pharmacies meet Texas safety standards.

The legislation, modeled after successful programs in Wisconsin and Minnesota, will "help Texans to better afford the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs," he said.

The Houston senator said the increasing costs of prescription drugs could lead to a "major health care crisis in Texas," and cause some Texans to have to do without "much-needed prescriptions" or lead to their buying "who-knows-what from who-knows-where" over the Internet.

Hochberg said the legislation will affect "an awful lot of Texans" by making lower cost prescription drugs available. He said the Canadian pharmacies selling the drugs to Texans would be inspected and licensed by the Texas Board of Pharmacy with the same standards as Texas pharmacies and with set standards for shipping and processing of orders. He said the goal is to provide a safe product, an effective product and an efficient process so that Texans' prescription needs can be "taken care of safely." He reminded that no one fusses when Canadian automobiles or clothing are sold to Texans, and added "but for pharmaceutical companies," probably no one would likely put up a fuss about the sale of prescription drugs to Texas by Canadian pharmacies.

"It's a good bill for those folks who have a hard time making ends meet," said the Houston House member.

Marilyn Claypool, a resident of an Austin senior housing community, said it is difficult to obtain affordable drugs. She takes 20 prescription drugs daily and said those senior citizens who can't afford their prescriptions often will "do without your food or whatever you need to just to be able to live."

A representative of numerous senior citizen advocacy groups said the bill will bring Texans quality protections while allowing them the opportunity to save on the cost of prescription drugs. He said in a similar program in Wisconsin, residents there are saving 50 percent and more on the cost of prescription drugs with safe access to Canadian pharmacies. "This is desperately needed in Texas," he said.

Hochberg cited one individual who saved $152 on the filling of one prescription for Celebrex. There are dozens of other such drugs available at more affordable prices, he said, and residents filling their prescriptions in Canada "save on every one of them."

The legislation includes a provision for a state website modeled after other states' that would list pharmacies in Canada that are licensed and inspected by the state of Texas. Their list of available prescription drugs, with a 30-day guaranteed price, would be available on that site.

The State Board of Pharmacy already licenses out-of-state pharmacies, said Hochberg, and the goal is to ensure those pharmacies and any licensed in Canada are "as safe or safer than pharmacies in our own neighborhoods." He said he is confident that the Canadian pharmacy system and its inspections are "as good as ours." He said no one has made a similar claim regarding pharmacies in Mexico and thus the legislation does not include that country's pharmacies. However, he said he is willing "to look at" pharmacies in other countries.

"This is not a long-term solution," said Hochberg, adding that if every other industrial nation in the world can negotiate drug prices, "So can we." He said those individuals without the ability to negotiate are generally those who have no insurance and no one to represent them. "Those are the people we're trying to give a break," he said.

"Each of us understands that this bill is not a cure-all," said Ellis. "But it can mean significant savings to thousands of Texans." He said there remains a lot that can be done to make prescription drugs more affordable in Texas, and called his legislation "the first step in the right direction."