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Burlington Free Press: Welch Attempt to get Cheap Canadian Drugs for Vermonters Fails

June 8, 2017
In The News

A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment this week that would have allowed Vermonters — and all Americans — to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. 

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who sponsored the amendment, said that while the amendment was defeated on a voice vote, there was a two-hour debate on the subject of high prescription drug prices in the United States.

Welch attached the amendment to a bill authorizing user fees to support the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, brought before the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care.

"This was an opportunity for me to get the committee finally to start discussing the exorbitant prices that Vermonters and Americans are paying for prescription drugs," Welch said. "That has not been a topic on the agenda. Shame on Congress."

During the debate, Welch pointed to a story from the Burlington Free Press on March 3 as an example of the problem.

In the story, Joanne Wechsler of Jericho explains that she had been buying a drug for her son, Adam, who has muscular dystrophy, for $500 annually from the United Kingdom. When a U.S. company began making the drug, the cost was to go up to $89,000 for one year.

"That was shocking and stunning," Welch said. "It grabbed my colleagues, who tend to be pro-pharma, into paying attention."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced similar legislation in the Senate that would allow Americans to buy Canadian drugs.

Welch said he has also discussed the prescription drug issue with President Donald Trump. In March Trump called on Congress to "bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.".

In his remarks to the House committee, Welch gave the example of the EpiPen, which costs $250 in Canada and $600 in the United States.

"We pay the highest prices in the world," Welch said. "Drug prices and profits are the highest they've ever been. The top 10 executives were paid $347 million."

Welch said the main reason prices are lower in Canada is that the Canadian government negotiates prices with the drug companies. In the United States, the federal government is prohibited from negotiating prices on prescriptions drugs, despite the fact that it is the biggest buyer by far through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"Pharma doesn't want us doing anything that interferes with the immense pricing power they have," Welch said. "I'm a fan of pharma. They create life-saving drugs. But they have to stop price gouging."