And now, in the face of inaction at the federal level, states are taking it upon themselves to address the problem.
How? By moving to import less expensive medications from Canada.
Vermont lawmakers are considering legislation to create an agency which would buy popular prescription medicines in bulk from Canada, and then distribute to pharmacies in the state. Utah, Oklahoma and West Virginia have proposed similar measures.
The state senator Ginny Lyons, who sponsored the Vermont bill, said that without government price controls, “pharmaceutical companies are getting away with murder,” in the US.
The goal is to come together and put pressure on Congress to act. All of the measures under consideration would require Congressional approval.
“People are making choices between food and prescription drugs. We can’t allow that to continue, so we’re trying to take matters into our own hands,” she said.
“When a lot of little fish get together, it has meaning for the members of Congress.”
But not everyone agrees that importing drugs from Canada is a wise move: after the U.S., Canada's drugs are the most expensive. Further, the U.S. population is potentially too large for widespread imports to address the problem adequately.
Dr Joel Lexchin, a former emergency department physician and drug policy expert from York University in Toronto, Canada, said that it’s “fine for an individual” to drive up to Canada and buy drugs, but that the US government needs to tackle drug pricing for a sustainable solution.
“Even if the US bought every pill in Canada, you have almost 10 times the population. This is not going to solve the problem of drug prices in the United States,” said Lexchin. “The solution is for the US to start regulating its own prices. And you can do that.”