California Healthline Rounds Up Recent Developments, Coverage on Reimportation
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $8.5 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first half of this year as it worked against a House-passed bill (HR 2427) that would allow the reimportation of lower-cost U.S.-made prescription drugs, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Frommer, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/13). The bill, sponsored by Reps. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), would permit U.S. residents to buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations. The House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1) include more-restrictive provisions that would allow reimportation of U.S.-made drugs only from Canada and would allow the FDA to nullify the action if it becomes law. HR 2427 does not include such language (California Healthline, 10/8). The $8.5 million -- the most PhRMA has ever spent in a reporting period, according to federal reports -- included expenses such as salaries and mailings but not campaign contributions. The AP/Inquirer reports that many of PhRMA's members also spent millions of dollars on lobbying efforts in the first half of the year: Eli Lilly spent $2.9 million, Bristol-Myers Squibb spent $2.6 million, Johnson & Johnson spent $2.2 million, Hoffmann-La Roche spent $2.0 million and Pfizer spent $1.8 million. According to the Web site Political Money Line, the drug industry has spent $29 million overall in lobbying this year, more than any other industry. It is not known how much of the $8.5 million was spent specifically on lobbying against the House reimportation bill because the federal report does not break down spending on individual issues, the AP/Inquirer reports. Gutknecht said, "[PhRMA's lobbying] was the most intense full-court press," adding, "Members who had been here 20 years said they had not seen anything like it." While a PhRMA spokesperson said that the group does not discuss its lobbying efforts, the organization has said that allowing reimportation would cut revenue, which could reduce research into new medicines, and that reimported drugs could be tampered with or counterfeited (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/13).
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly (D) on Monday wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson stating that the two agencies should reverse their opposition to reimportation and create "secure channels" for U.S. residents to purchase drugs from Canada, the Boston Globe reports (Rowland, Boston Globe, 10/14). Reilly said that drug companies are "entitled to recover their costs of research, ... and clearly they're entitled to a profit, but this is out of control," adding, "We're subsidizing the rest of the world when it comes to prescription drugs and we just can't afford to do it anymore" (Heldt Powell, Boston Herald, 10/14). He wrote that the FDA should re-examine its responsibilities under the Medicine Equity and Drug Safety Act of 2000, which allows the agency to create a system of reimportation from Canada if the HHS secretary certifies that it could be done safely. According to Reilly, the FDA could use anti-counterfeiting technology to ensure the safety of reimported drugs. While Reilly does not support a reimportation program in Springfield, Mass., because it has been deemed illegal by the FDA, he is the first high-ranking Massachusetts state official to join the reimportation debate, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 10/14). Under the Springfield program, 20,000 city employees, retirees and dependents who receive health coverage from the city can fax their prescriptions to a group of Ontario pharmacies and receive their medications in the mail (California Healthline, 10/8). Peter Pitts, the FDA's associate commissioner for external relations, said, "We certainly understand the states are in a difficult financial situation. But certainly safety cannot be traded off for price." Wanda Moebius, a spokesperson for PhRMA, said, "When every major federal agency responsible for drug safety says it is a problem, we should stop and listen to them." She added that many of the anti-counterfeiting technologies cannot "be put into place immediately, and importation is a problem that is going on today" (Boston Globe, 10/14).
The AP/Baltimore Sun on Tuesday examined the issues surrounding proposals under consideration in Congress to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada. Because of government price controls, prescription drugs in Canada are up to 50% cheaper than they are in the United States, which has "[l]ured" several state governments and Springfield to consider reimporting or reimport drugs from Canada, the AP/Sun reports. However, according to the AP/Sun, the drug industry contends that it is unsafe to reimport medicine and that price controls do not generate enough money to support research necessary for drug innovations. FDA officials are also opposed to reimportation because of safety issues. However, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), one of several governors to recently announce plans to assess reimporting drugs for state employees and residents, said that the FDA is "protecting the pharmaceutical industry." The article also examines Springfield's reimportation program; the Justice Department case against Rx Depot, which helps U.S. resident reimport drugs; and HR 2427 (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/14).
- NBC's "Nightly News" on Thursday also profiled Albano and his plan to remove pharmaceutical company stocks from the city's investment portfolio. The segment includes comments from Albano and PhRMA President Alan Holmer (Allen, "Nightly News," NBC, 10/9). The full segment is available online in Windows Media.
- NPR's "All Things Considered" on Friday reported on how reimportation is "ultimately going to cause headaches for Canadians" in the form of reduced drug supply and the potential loss of drug company research, development and manufacturing projects located in Canada. The segment includes comments from Sheila Frame, vice president of public affairs for AstraZeneca Canada Inc.; Richard Frank, a health economist at Harvard University; and Jason Pankratz, a pharmacist at McGregor Clinic Pharmacy in Winnipeg (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/10). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.