WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- President Barack Obama on Thursday said prescription drug costs should be lower, and suggested giving the government power to directly negotiate drug prices and allowing medicines to be imported from abroad would be ways to lower prices.
The pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed both ideas, saying they would hamper innovation, harm the industry's business model and expose Americans to unsafe drugs. Obama, during a live interview that aired on the video-sharing website YouTube, said the government should "look at" the two ideas.
His answer was prompted by a man who said his U.S.-made diabetes medicine is cheaper to purchase abroad. "Why does the same medication that I use cost so much less in Mexico or Canada, even though it's being made right here in the United States?" the man said. He added, "We as a country need to fix this problem."
The president said other countries can negotiate drug prices -the U.S. can't. "We still don't do that," Obama said. He added, "I actually think it's something we should do."
The president's health care law doesn't include either option. The pharmaceutical industry, which favored the health law, wouldn't have supported the overhaul if either were included.
The question about prescription-drug costs come as Republicans are working to repeal Obama's overhaul of the health-care system. The law was aimed at expanding health-insurance coverage and lowering costs, though Republicans charge it will increase costs. Obama said he is open to ideas that will help make the health-care delivery system more efficient.
It's unclear whether the Obama administration is seriously considering either of the ideas. The White House didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Obama noted that drug costs for some senior citizens have fallen in part because the pharmaceutical industry agreed to spend billions discounting the cost of drugs for seniors.
Wes Metheny, a senior vice president for public affairs at PhRMA, the main lobby for the pharmaceutical industry, said the industry still opposes allowing the government to negotiate drug prices and letting people import drugs from abroad. He said there is "no guarantee" that either would lower costs.
Allowing drug to be imported from abroad is something health officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations have opposed. The person Obama tapped to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, said allowing drugs to be imported from abroad would endanger the medicine supply.
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