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Proposal would allow imported medications

FARGO - Consumers would be able to buy prescription drugs imported from Canada and Europe at an estimated savings over a decade of $50 billion under legislation introduced Wednesday.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and three co-sponsors, would allow American consumers to benefit from much lower prescription drug costs found elsewhere in the industrialized world.

"It will force a re-pricing of prescription drugs in our country," Dorgan said.

The bill likely faces the support of the Obama administration, he added, noting that President Barack Obama co-sponsored similar legislation when he was in the U.S. Senate, and his White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was a House co-sponsor.

"There's reason to expect that we're going to have a bit of a tailwind to get this done for a change," Dorgan said. The importation bill was opposed by the Bush administration and the pharmaceutical industry.

The bill would allow licensed pharmacists and wholesalers in the United States to import medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration from Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Savings, including an estimated $10 billion in reduced costs to taxpayers over 10 years, would be passed along to consumers.

The legislation also would allow U.S. consumers to legally buy prescription drugs for their own use in Canada - a provision of great interest to consumers in North Dakota and Minnesota, where trips to Canada to buy prescriptions are common.

Women who need Tamoxifen to treat breast cancer, for example, can save 80 percent by going to Canada to fill their prescription, Dorgan said.

Janis Cheney, AARP North Dakota state director, said her organization supports the legislation because it would allow consumers safe access to more affordable prescriptions.

"This is a bill which establishes a framework for the safe, legal importation of lower-cost drugs from abroad," she said. The cost of name-brand prescriptions is rising at more than double the general rate of inflation, she said.

"More and more we do live in a global society, and this is another way we can appropriately participate in that," Cheney said.

The pharmaceutical industry, which opposes the importation legislation, has argued that it will mean a loss of revenues that would hamper research for new drugs.

Federal support for pharmaceutical research has increased significantly, Dorgan said, and by some accounts the drug industry pays more for marketing than for research.