Safe ways to reduce prescription drug costs

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As Congress and a number of cities and states debate importing medicines from Canada, Illinois residents may mistakenly believe that purchasing medicines there is the only way to better afford their needed drugs.

While importation advocates claim vast savings are possible, studies have suggested savings to governments of as little as 1 percent of their total drug costs. The reasons are obvious. Large government and corporate purchasers already see substantial savings on their purchases. Consumers with insurance are benefiting from those savings.

The real problem is for consumers who lack good insurance for prescription medicines. However, consumers should consider several facts before embarking on such a risky course.

First, they may be able to find savings that are near or even greater than those available from Canada by taking advantage of one of the patient assistance and company-sponsored discount card programs and even shopping around at different pharmacies. The online database at provides patients access to information about more than 1,400 medicines offered free through patient assistance programs sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry and others.

Second, the discount cards offered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as part of the new Medicare drug benefit will offer substantial savings on the retail price of pharmaceuticals.

Finally, the evidence that these illegal drugs carry real risks is compelling. Many illegal imports are cheap knock-offs from Third World countries that are shipped into Canada and then transshipped into the United States. The possibility of millions of Americans ending up with the wrong prescription drugs—or harmful, potentially lethal substitutes—has prompted the Health and Human Services Administration to oppose importation of drugs because of the increased risks to patients.

Greater availability of insurance and more awareness of discount and assistance programs are the best ways to ensure that Americans are getting the medicines they need. Illegal importation isn’t the answer.

Alan F. Holmer is the president and chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. PhRMA represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that allow patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. PhRMA members invested an estimated $33.2 billion in 2003 in discovering and developing new medicines. PhRMA companies are leading the way in the search for new cures. Visit the web site at for more information.

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