WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) applauded the announcement from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar that the Administration will move forward on a request from Brown to study prescription drug reimportation. At Brown’s request, Azar has directed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish a working group to study offsetting domestic prescription drug price spikes by promoting competition and safely importing prescription drugs from other countries.

During the process of Azar’s confirmation as HHS Secretary, Brown submitted a question in support of prescription drug reimportation from countries with rigorous safety standards and pressed Azar on next steps. Azar responded to Brown with a commitment to “exploring whether any pilots or demonstrations might be utilized.”

“Prescription drug price spikes allow drug companies to make millions off the backs of hardworking Americans whose lives depend on these medications,” said Brown. “The working group announced today is a good first step toward addressing this shameful practice in a way that bolsters competition and provides a safe alternative for Americans in need of these medications.” 

The working group will study the safe reimportation of prescription drugs from other countries in the event of a price spike on medication that is produced by one manufacturer that is not protected by patents or exclusivities.

Brown also pressed Azar on the high cost of prescription drugs during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month. Brown questioned Secretary Azar specifically on the practice by some pharmaceutical companies to increase the price of their product with no explanation, price gouging customers to increase the company’s profit margins. Secretary Azar agreed to work with Brown to address the practice.

Brown has introduced legislation, the Stop Price Gouging Act, would hold drug companies accountable for large price increases, and, according to Health Affairs Blog, would result in billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Any revenues collected through the Stop Price Gouging Act would be reinvested in future drug research and development at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Stop Price Gouging Act would:

  • Require drug companies to report increases in drug prices, and justify the increase.
  • Penalize drug companies that engage in unjustified price increases with financial penalties proportionate to the price spike.

In addition to the Stop Price Gouging Act, Brown and a group of Senators have introduced a package of proposals to help bring down the cost of prescription drugs. The package included provisions to stop price spikes by penalizing pharmaceutical companies that engage in price gouging, and would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices – which the President promised to do throughout his campaign. Brown’s bill has been described as “just about every policy idea drug lobbyists hate.”

Brown’s package, called the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, would help ensure that drug companies put patients before profits and bring some much-needed relief to families and seniors. The bill includes language authored by Brown to increase access to biosimilar drugs, providing additional competition in the marketplace and making them more affordable, and language to tax the windfall profits of drug companies when they drive up the cost of drugs without cause overnight.

In December 2016, Brown wrote to President Trump outlining specific steps his Administration should take to help Congress reduce prices for working Americans including: allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate better prices for Medicare recipients; requiring drug companies to disclose costs associated with creating drugs so prices are more transparent; putting an end to abusive price gouging; and ensuring competition and innovation that will lead to greater competition and more affordable, effective drugs.