Bipartisan Group of Senators To Introduce Bill To Allow Prescription Drug Reimportation
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday plans to introduce a bill that would allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from other nations, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reports (Spokane Spokesman-Review, 4/21). The group, led by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), includes Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The group has released no details about the bill (Schuler, CQ Today, 4/20). According to CongressDaily, the legislation "apparently would allow" reimportation from Canada immediately and from the European Union and other nations with "advanced drug regulatory regimes" within one year (Rovner, CongressDaily, 4/21). An unnamed Senate staff member said that the bill would require foreign prescription drug distributors to pay fees to cover the cost of increased safety inspections by FDA. In addition, the legislation would allow commercial, as well as individual, reimportation, according to that staff member (Rowland, Boston Globe, 4/21). Dorgan said that he expects the bill to reach the Senate floor for a vote this year. Barry Piatt, a spokesperson for Dorgan, called the legislation a "major step forward and a major breakthrough" that will "pave the way for a vote." He said that earlier this year Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) promised Dorgan a vote on a reimportation bill in exchange for his decision to lift a hold on the nomination of Mark McClellan as CMS administrator. However, according to CQ Today, a reimportation bill drafted by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is the "most likely vehicle for any movement" on the issue in the Senate. Gregg said that the legislation would "allow reimportation from Canada and other countries the FDA says have an adequate regime to protect pharmaceuticals, and a process where you could purchase drugs over the Internet after the FDA has had adequate chance to review it" (CQ Today, 4/20).
In related news, economists, academics and pharmaceutical industry representatives said at a conference on Tuesday that legalization of reimportation from Canada would not "substantially" reduce prescription drug prices in the United States, CongressDaily reports. Reimportation supporters have not asked the "hard question -- is this going to save money in the long run? The answer is no," Robert Freedman, executive director of public policy for AstraZeneca, said. Robert Helms of the American Enterprise Institute said that reimportation would not work because pharmaceutical companies "are not going to ship the volume to Canada to reship it back here." Freedman added that reimportation from Europe would not work because only a few European nations currently sell prescription drugs internationally. John Vernon of the University of Connecticut Graduate School of Business said that the legalization of reimportation in the United States could prompt pharmaceutical companies to reduce their research and development budgets by 25% to 33%. Kristina Lybecker of Drexel University, said that she is "not surprised that Congress is not listening to calls about potential ill effects" of reimportation, CongressDaily reports. "On the other side you have Grandma. And Grandma's not getting her drugs, and Grandma's getting on the bus and going to Canada," Lybecker said, adding, "The people who will be hurt don't yet have faces." The University of Michigan College of Pharmacy and AstraZeneca sponsored the conference (CongressDaily, 4/21).
In response to recent claims, officials for Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent of FDA, last week said that Canada has not experienced a prescription drug shortage because of increased reimportation, CongressDaily reports (Rich, CongressDaily, 4/21). At a hearing of the U.S. Task Force on Drug Importation last week, two Canadian patient advocacy groups -- the Consumer Advocare Network and the Canadian Treatment Action Council -- testified that reimportation has caused prescription drug shortages in Canada (California Healthline, 4/15). "To date, we haven't seen any evidence of a shortage of prescription drugs (for Canadians) due to the practice of Internet pharmacies shipping drugs to the United States or through cross-border sales," Emmanuel Chabot, a spokesperson for Health Canada, said. David MacKay, director of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said although some pharmaceutical companies have limited supplies to Canadian online pharmacies that sell medications to U.S. consumers, sales to Canadian residents for use in Canada "have not been affected." MacKay added, "Those who say so are fear-mongering" (Rich, CongressDaily, 4/21).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.