Sanders sees hope for drug re-importation bill

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders says concerns about new Medicare prescription drug discount cards could help the effort to pass a drug re-importation bill this summer in Congress.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Sign ups for the discount cards, which represent the first phase of the new Medicare Drug bill, are going slowly in part because officials believe that people eligible for the discounts have been overwhelmed with information about the program. There are roughly 40 different national cards available, and in some cases, a specific type of card must be used for a person to receive a discount on a specific prescription drug.

The Vermont Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons has 118,000 members in the state. Director Bobbi Kaimen is encouraging her members not to rush into getting a card without conducting the proper research. A new AARP national survey shows that the cost of prescription drugs increased last year by at least 10 percent – an amount that’s equal to the projected savings of the new discount cards.

Kaimen says allowing individuals to purchase drugs from Canada is a better short term option to reduce costs:

(Kaimen) “I think we’ve really got to get a handle on the cost of drugs and right now legal re-importation is what we can support, as long as it is legal. And those drugs right now are costing less. So anything that will get us to a solution to lower cost drugs legally is something we can support.”

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders says the lukewarm reception to the new discount card system is convincing more members of Congress to support legislation that makes it legal to re-import drugs from Canada:

(Sanders) “People understand that the key crisis in prescription drugs is the fact that we’re paying far, far more than any other country. We have got to lower the cost of prescription drugs. And the very good news is that having passed a strong bill in the House, we now believe quite certainly that we have the votes in the Senate to pass re-importation legislation. There the question is whether the Republican leadership will allow us that vote in the Senate.”

(Kinzel) Backers of the re-importation plan in the Senate are hoping to have a vote on this issue by the end of the month.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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