AARP Officially Endorses Senate Bill To Allow Prescription Drug Reimportation
As expected, AARP on Wednesday officially announced that the 35 million-member organization will endorse a bill (S 2328) that would allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from other nations, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal reports (Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, 6/17). Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), U.S. residents could reimport as much as a 90-day supply of prescription drugs from FDA-approved Canadian pharmacies for personal use. After 90 days, the legislation would allow licensed pharmacists and prescription drug wholesalers to reimport medications from Canada. In addition, U.S. residents who travel to Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland or current European Union nations could return with as much as a 90-day supply of prescription drugs for personal use. After one year, pharmacists and wholesalers could reimport medication from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland or European Union nations that were members as of Jan. 1, 2003. Pharmacists and wholesalers that reimport prescription drugs would have to register with FDA; pay fees of as much as 1% of the price of the medications to fund the cost of additional federal inspectors and customs agents; and track and document the chain of custody of medications from manufacturer to consumer (California Healthline, 6/16).
At a news conference in Washington, D.C., AARP President Marie Smith said, "This bill is not a panacea," but she added, "It's a good step in the right direction" (Barfield Berry, Long Island Newsday, 6/17). AARP CEO Bill Novelli said that while the bill is not ideal, it would exert pressure to reduce U.S. prescription drug prices, Dow Jones/Journal reports (Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, 6/17). Novelli added that reimportation "is already happening on a large scale" and that "[w]e must ensure that there is a system in place for guaranteeing safety and cost savings" (Hallam, Bloomberg/Detroit Free Press, 6/17). Novelli said that AARP is creating a large advertising campaign in support of the measure and plans to lobby legislators to back the bill. Currently, the bill has 23 co-sponsors (Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, 6/17). He said that he did not know exactly how much money AARP will spend for the national advertising campaign, Bloomberg/Free Press reports. Dorgan and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said that they would probably attach the bill as an amendment to "must-pass" legislation such as government-funding measures, which would force the Senate to vote on the proposal (Bloomberg/Detroit Free Press, 6/17). Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said that the organization would combat efforts to legalize reimportation, Newsday reports. "We certainly believe that we have powerful arguments against importation and that we still have time to convey them to key lawmakers," Trewhitt said. He added that the AARP endorsement "certainly causes concern, but the battle is by no means over."
Richard Himelfarb, a political scientist at Hofstra University, said, "Any time AARP supports a bill it's a senior citizen Good Housekeeping seal of approval. It gives congressmen of all stripes cover to vote for the legislation" (Long Island Newsday, 6/17). Andrew Parmentier, a policy analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey, said that the AARP endorsement of the Dorgan bill is a "political blow" to a competing bill introduced by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) (Bloomberg/Detroit Free Press, 6/17). The Gregg bill would require FDA to establish a system to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada within one year and the reimportation of medications from the European Union nations within three years. In addition, the bill would require pharmaceutical companies, prescription drug wholesalers and other entities involved in reimportation to register with FDA and pay a fee that would supplement the cost of implementation and maintenance of the system. The legislation would only allow the reimportation of FDA-approved medications from FDA-approved manufacturing facilities. The legislation also would require pharmaceutical companies to label reimported medications separately from other U.S.-manufactured treatments. Under the bill, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson could restrict, inspect and control the ports of access through which reimported medications enter the United States. In addition, the legislation would require online pharmacies to obtain licenses and would mandate that physicians in other nations cosign prescriptions for reimported medications. The legislation would not penalize pharmaceutical companies that limit the number of prescription drugs available for reimportation (American Health Line, 6/16). The Gregg bill is scheduled to be considered by the Senate HELP Committee next week. However, McCain criticized the Gregg bill, saying it would allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to cut off supplies to international pharmacies and wholesalers, Dow Jones/Journal reports (Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, 6/17).
The Christian Science Monitor on Thursday examined how some Republican lawmakers are backing reimportation because the "expected ... vote of gratitude from seniors" for passing the new Medicare prescription drug benefit is "nowhere yet in sight." According to the Monitor, evidence that many Republicans are "facing heat from seniors who expected more from Medicare reform" includes the Gregg bill, the support of Dorgan's reimportation bill by some Republicans and the backing from three House Republicans of a Democrat-introduced amendment that would prevent FDA enforcement of a federal ban on reimportation (Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, 6/17). C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" on Wednesday included an interview with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) about reimportation and Medicare prescription drug benefits ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 6/16). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer and Windows Media.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.