By Bob Katzen

Legislation that would allow Massachusetts residents to purchase drugs from Canada will have a hearing in front of the Public Health Committee on September 9th between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. in room B-1 at the statehouse.

Under the provisions of the bill, Bay Staters would not actually go to Canada or buy from Canadian pharmacies online. Instead, the state would create and run a wholesale importation program in which the state is the licensed wholesaler importing drugs from a licensed, regulated Canadian supplier and selling them to Massachusetts pharmacies at a much lower cost.

“For far too long Massachusetts consumers have paid way too much for prescription medications and that has raised our healthcare costs,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Lenny Mirra (R-West Newbury). “The only way to reign in drug company greed is to increase competition by opening up our markets to allow us to buy these products from other countries where they cost a lot less.”

State approval of the proposed law is only the first of many steps. The law cannot go into effect until it gets approval from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Federal officials have not been supportive of these laws in the past. However, President Trump has directed HHS Secretary Alex Azar to work with states that approve these laws. Whether HHS will ultimately approve the state laws is still a big question.

Recently Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) took a dozen Americans to Canada to buy cheaper insulin at one-tenth the price it is sold for in the United States.

At one point, Sanders held up a vial of insulin that would cost around $340 in the U.S. but costs only $38 in Canada. He decried greed, corruption and excessive profits of the drug companies.

“Over last 20 years, the pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign contributions,” said Sanders. “They buy and sell politicians – Republicans and Democrats. In the last 20 years, they have spent billions of dollars on lobbying Congress to make sure they can continue to charge the America people any price they want.”

Kathy Sego who rode up on the bus is an Indiana mother whose 22-year-old son has Type 1 diabetes. “$1,000 today got me six months of insulin for my son,” Sego said, tears flowing down her face. “That’s [way] less than what we pay for one month in the United States.”

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