Congress Faces Growing Pressure To Legalize Reimportation of Prescription Drugs
Republicans and Democrats say that support for legalizing reimportation of prescription drugs from abroad is growing in Congress, as lawmakers face pressure from the public to find ways to lower the cost of medicine in the United States, USA Today reports. In 2003, the House voted 243-186 to legalize reimportation, but the issue was not addressed in the Senate. Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that Republican leaders likely will allow a vote on the issue in the new session that begins in January, adding, "It will come up, and it will pass." Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said that a run-off election Saturday for one of Louisiana's congressional seats "tells you where the politics is" on reimportation.
Both candidates in the run-off -- Billy Tauzin Jr. (R) and Charlie Melancon (D) -- support legalizing reimportation. According to USA Today, Billy Tauzin Jr.'s father, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), "led the fight in the House of Representatives against legalizing" reimportation. Emanuel said, "It is no longer debated. People know in this country that people in both Europe and Canada pay 50% less than Americans do for the same drugs. Those drugs are as safe as the ones we find here in the United States."
President Bush has said he opposes legalizing reimportation -- although he indicated he was willing to consider it during the presidential campaign -- and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has raised concerns about the safety of the practice, USA Today reports. A Bush administration task force is scheduled to report Dec. 8 to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on whether the safety of reimported drugs can be assured (Welch, USA Today, 12/1).
Newsweek this week examined how the "battles over prescription drugs are heating up," as Americans worry about "how to pay for" the medications they need. Newsweek features some of the issues that Congress and the Bush administration are expected to address in the next year, including whether the federal government should be allowed to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices on prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries. The new Medicare law prohibits such bargaining, but lawmakers could re-examine the issue as the new Medicare prescription drug benefit begins.
In addition, lawmakers will consider the issue of using more generic drugs, Newsweek reports. As part of the new Medicare law, Bush "made it somewhat easier for companies to bring cheaper generic versions of prescription drugs to market," according to Newsweek (Rosenberg, Newsweek, 12/6).