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Drug Importation Bills Get Hearing in ND Legislature

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In 2019, 4,311 prescription drugs experienced a price hike, with the average increase hovering around 21%, according to data compiled by Rx Savings Solutions. (Adobe Stock)
In 2019, 4,311 prescription drugs experienced a price hike, with the average increase hovering around 21%, according to data compiled by Rx Savings Solutions. (Adobe Stock)
January 26, 2021

BISMARCK, N.D. -- This week, a North Dakota legislative committee will hear proposals on a system for importing less-expensive prescription drugs from Canada.

Advocates say the state should take advantage of changes in federal rules to help older residents struggling to afford medications.

A trio of bills around this idea will be considered by the Senate Human Services Committee tomorrow. Two of them would establish a wholesale program, which paves the way for North Dakota to buy cheaper medications from north of the border and safely transport them into the state.

Sen. Howard Anderson, R-Turtle Lake, the bill's sponsor, said skyrocketing drug costs in the U.S. still are a problem, and a solution lies north.

"When you look right across our border in Canada, we see prices which can be as low as 20% of what we pay in this country for the same drug," Anderson explained.

In December, the Trump administration enacted changes allowing states to seek approval from Washington for a wholesale importation system. Supporters say it prevents people from seeking out unregulated products on their own.

But the pharmaceutical industry is fighting these federal changes in court, and political experts wonder if the Biden administration will want to enact its own rules for reducing drug costs.

Meanwhile, Anderson acknowledged the wholesale system might be a tough sell for the state agencies that would have to take on all the extra costs and oversight.

Josh Askvig, state director for AARP North Dakota, said policymakers should really pay attention to what older residents are saying. He cited recent survey data from his organization.

"Almost one in four said they didn't fill a prescription in the last year," Askvig noted. "And of those who didn't fill a prescription, 44% of them, or almost half, said they didn't fill a prescription because of the cost of that drug."

And 81% of respondents said it should be legal to import affordable medications from Canada.

The third bill being considered by the committee deals with price comparisons for prescription drugs available in Canada, essentially allowing the prices to be imported instead of the actual drugs.

Disclosure: AARP North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, and Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND