Drug Importation Takes Center Stage On Senate Floor

Debate on a proposal that would make it easier to bring prescription drugs into the country from abroad is taking center stage on the Senate floor as part of the health care reform debate.

The Associated Press: "A bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes to finally win a long struggle to ease curbs against importing low-cost prescription drugs but will have to overcome the Obama administration and the pharmaceutical industry to do so." The amendment would "allow U.S. pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs from Canada, Europe and a few other countries. People on both sides of the issue say it will be tough for supporters to get the 60 votes they'll need to win" (Fram, 12/10). 

The Seattle Times/The Associated Press: "Some import supporters question whether the administration is acting to keep the powerful pharmaceutical industry's support for [President Barack] Obama's effort to overhaul the nation's health-care system. An administration official denied that. ... Even before Dorgan introduced it Tuesday night, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent senators a letter saying the plan would be 'logistically challenging' to implement and raises 'significant safety concerns.' ... Dorgan said he was surprised by the letter because Obama co-sponsored Dorgan's proposal in 2007 as a freshman Democratic senator from Illinois. In addition, Dorgan noted, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sponsored another version of the bill that same year as a Democratic House member from Illinois" (Fram, 12/10). 

The Wall Street Journal: "In a letter to Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg also said overseeing importation would be 'resource intensive.' The letter was a response to a request by Sen. Brownback, who in the past has opposed reimportation of drugs." Dorgan responded by calling the FDA letter "completely bogus" (Mundy, 12/9).

Bloomberg reports that drugmakers are speaking out against a proposal to allow reimportation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. "The plan, from lawmakers led by (senators) North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, drew fire from drugmakers such as Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co."

"'It would be a huge mistake for Congress to pursue policies that could expose Americans to counterfeit and substandard drug products,' said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Washington industry association" (Gaouette and Jensen, 12/10).

CQ HealthBeat also reports on the FDA letter: "It was unclear when the Senate might vote on the amendment offered by Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D. ... John McCain, R-Ariz., said the deal with the pharmaceutical industry was the real reason behind the FDA letter. He mocked the agency's reasoning in the letter. ... [Meanwhile], Hamburg ended the letter by promising to work with senators to explore other options for drug importation (Ethridge, 12/9).

See related news on Wednesday's Senate negotiations and debate on drug re-importation at Kaiser Health News.

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