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THOMAS M. MENINO

Boston's leadership on Rx drug pricing

BIOTECH IS a key component of our renowned life sciences and biomedical community, and as a growth industry it is also a key to Boston's future. I applaud the work biotech has done to develop cutting-edge treatments to address previously unsolvable medical problems, and I am proud of Boston's contributions in these areas. My support for the new $124 million biocontainment lab near Boston University Medical School demonstrates my desire to see Boston expand its role as a leader in the biotech industry.

 

Why, then, do I support a pilot project for importing medicines from Canada?

My position is not contradictory. This pilot program is not a statement that drug prices will be or should be controlled by government, nor is it a viable long-term solution to the problem of high prices for prescription drugs. It is a call for finding a responsible balance between the needs of our uninsured residents and the needs of the important, innovative companies that contribute so much to our wellness and economic vitality.

Individual Americans, cities, and other buyers have all had a hard time keeping up with rising drug prices. Millions of Americans are already buying from Canada -- evidence that drug prices have outpaced the ability of buyers to pay the prices pharmaceutical companies ask.

The double-digit medical inflation rates of the past decade cannot be sustained. People in other industrialized nations pay significantly less for medicines than Americans do. The federal government should press those nations to help share in research and development costs by relaxing their regulation of pharmacy prices.

Congress has given the FDA the authority to allow imports of less expensive medicine from Canada, but the administration has failed to act. It is up to local governments to take steps to introduce competition. My pilot program of purchasing from Canada will inject needed price competition into the market. It will help to catalyze a conversation that will bring us what we want -- a more sustainable, equitable pricing structure.

The federal failure to act endangers Americans. While high drug costs are forcing many to turn abroad for medicines they can afford, the FDA is doing nothing to make this process safer. Many Internet and foreign drug outlets are simply not safe or reliable.

Our federal government should put in place appropriate regulations to protect Americans when they buy needed drugs from abroad. Ignoring this problem will not make it stop, and closing all access to foreign drugs will only punish those who need medicines the most and can least afford them. The federal government should protect these citizens, not penalize them.

It is in the best interest of all parties to roll up their sleeves and address head-on the issue of the high cost of prescription drugs rather than falling back into entrenched positions.

As a city, Boston is a leader in health care and drug development, and therefore it is appropriate that Boston act as a leader in shaping the national debate over drug pricing. My pilot program is designed to create a model for importation that addresses safety issues and leads the federal government to recognize and act on its responsibilities.

This spring I will convene a meeting of representatives from every involved sector -- the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, health insurers and hospitals, and consumers. With all these parties represented in Greater Boston, our city is the ideal place for this national conversation to take shape.

This will not be an easy discussion. It is a necessary one, however. Active participation is in the best interest of all parties. Together we can push the national debate in a thoughtful way to develop equitable and sustainable health care solutions, extending Boston's leadership in bringing life-saving medicines to people who need them.

Thomas M. Menino, former president of the US Conference of Mayors, is mayor of Boston.

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