WASHINGTON – As small-business owners, we both learned long ago that negotiating a fair price is part of doing business. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has yet to be learned by the federal government when it comes to one of the single biggest expenses we face — the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries.

This common-sense solution to reining in the costs of prescription drugs is actually already being used for drugs purchased by the Veterans Administration, but thanks to aggressive and well-funded lobbying on the part of the pharmaceutical industry, the government is paying full list price for billions of dollars of prescription drugs in the Medicare program.

It’s not surprising that Maine was out in front on this idea. When we served as governor and Maine Senate majority leader we worked together to pass MaineRX, a landmark drug-pricing program that allowed the state to negotiate with the big drug companies to lower the prices Mainers paid for their prescriptions. Those drug companies fought us every step of the way — even challenging MaineRX all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (and we won!).

Congress has a chance to follow Maine’s lead, and both of us are currently co-sponsoring bills in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House that would require Medicare to negotiate a better deal for prescription drug prices.While we don’t agree on everything, we both think this legislation will help rein in rising health care costs.

As we debate ways to reduce the deficit, the cost of health care will inevitably be part of the discussion. The hard truth is that we can’t afford to keep pace with skyrocketing health care costs. But Medicare itself is not the problem, and drastically cutting benefits is not the solution.

Instead, we need to focus on what is driving up the cost of health care — and anyone who has had to pay for a prescription lately knows full well that those costs are a big part of the problem.

And this common-sense approach would save money — real money. According to a recent report, savings to the federal government over the next decade could be more than $500 billion. States would save more than $70 billion. And most importantly, beneficiaries would save more than $100 billion.

We distinctly remember the days when Maine seniors would regularly take bus trips to Canada to purchase needed medication. Many of the people on those buses were splitting pills or skipping prescriptions altogether so their spouse could afford theirs, but in Canada, prescription drug prices were often nearly half what seniors were paying in the U.S.

Since then, Congress passed legislation to finally cover prescription drugs under Medicare Part D, which has made a tremendous difference for millions of Americans on Medicare, but the problem is not solved.

Unfortunately, when Congress passed the Medicare prescription drug coverage measure, they failed to do anything about the skyrocketing prices charged by the drug manufacturers. In fact, that legislation expressly prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices with the manufacturers.

Think about that — the current law passed by Congress makes it illegal for the government to cut a better price on prescription drugs on behalf of the taxpayers. As small-business owners, we would never agree to a deal like that. So now we all pay the price.

The solution is not to go back to the days when people did not have coverage, but to harness the strength of the purchasing power of millions of seniors — it’s time to negotiate for lower drug costs for the Medicare program.

Negotiation doesn’t need to be a dirty word in Washington. And we hope our colleagues in the House and Senate will join us in supporting a common-sense approach to bringing down the cost of prescription drug prices.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Angus King is an independent U.S. senator.