(House of Representatives - May 25, 2000)

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[Pages H3858-H3859]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the 
gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Gutknecht) is recognized for 5 minutes.
  Mr. GUTKNECHT. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak again about an 
issue, that, as Members go back to their districts and have town hall 
meetings, I am certain they are going to hear about. The issue I want 
to talk about this afternoon is the issue of outrageously high drug 
prices that we pay in the United States, especially when we compare 
what Americans pay to what consumers around the rest of the world pay.
  What I have here is a chart, and our source is the Life Extension 
Network. They did research recently and compared the average prices for 
commonly prescribed drugs in the United States to what the average 
prices are in Europe. And it really is sobering.
  For example, Premarin is a commonly prescribed drug, the same drug 
made in the same plant under the same FDA approval, incidentally. In 
the United States, the average price is $14.98. For that exact same 
drug in the same quantity in Europe they pay $4.25.
  Coumadin is a drug that my dad takes; it is a blood thinner. In the 
United States, the average price is $30.25, but in Europe they pay only 
$2.85. And the list goes on. Prilosec, another commonly prescribed drug 
in the United States, the average price here in the United States is 
over $100; in Europe they are paying $39.25. Claritin, very commonly 
prescribed drug, particularly this time of year for hayfever and 
allergies, the United States is $44 an average; over in Europe, they 
are paying $8.75. The list goes on and on and on. And I think the story 
is altogether too familiar.
  Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleagues to ask themselves this simple 
question: Can any of us think of another product of any kind where the 
world's best customers pay the world's highest prices? This is 
particularly troubling because just yesterday we had a vote on 
expanding trade opportunities in opening markets between the United 
States and China.
  We have had for several years now the North American Free Trade 
Agreement. Goods and services are supposed to flow across our borders 
with Canada and Mexico freely. Recent studies suggest, and this is a 
study done by the Canadian government, says that Americans are paying 
56 percent more for the same prescription drugs made in the same 
facilities under the same FDA approval than our Canadian friends are 
paying for those same drugs.
  In other words, we are paying 56 percent more than Canadians, and the 
story gets worse. Prices in Mexico are

[[Page H3859]]

even lower. Consumers have been learning about this, and particularly 
  In Minnesota and all across the country, particularly where we are 
closer to the borders, seniors especially are getting on buses, and 
they are going to Canada to buy their prescription drugs. We have this 
wide disparity between what we pay and what the rest of the world pays.
  The question has to be asked, the people who are supposed to protect 
us are our own FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. So one might ask, 
what are they doing to help consumers get lower prices? Well, here is 
the answer. This is an edited version, but I want to point out a couple 
of sentences. We do not have the whole letter here, but it is 
available. Anyone who would like a copy can call my office.
  What the FDA is doing to help consumers is they are threatening them. 
If someone tries to order drugs through a mail order house from the 
United States, what they get with the order that has been opened is a 
threatening letter. Let me just read it. It says, ``Dear consumer: This 
letter is to advise you that the Minneapolis District of the United 
States Food and Drug Administration has examined a package addressed to 
you containing drugs which appear to be unapproved for use in the 
United States.''
  Well, Mr. Speaker, that is not true. The vast majority of drugs that 
are coming via this method are legal drugs in the United States. They 
are approved by the FDA. They are made in exactly the same plants.
  Later it says, ``Because you are taking this medication under the 
care of a physician and we do not want to cause your medical treatment 
to be unduly affected, we are releasing this shipment. However,'' and 
this is the important line, ``future shipments of these or similar 
drugs may be refused admission.''
  Now, if one were a 75-year-old grandmother and they get a threatening 
letter from the FDA, it is very disconcerting.
  Mr. Speaker, I think it is time for Congress to take a serious look 
at this problem. If we could just simply recover part of the costs, the 
differentials that we are paying for prescription drugs, we could go a 
long way to solving the problem of those people who fall through the 
  Do not just take my word for it. We just received in our offices a 
little pamphlet from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Let me just read from it. 
It says, ``Spending on prescription drugs rose 84 percent between 1993 
and 1998.''
  Mr. Speaker, it is time for Congress to say that the FDA should not 
stand between our consumers and lower drug prices.