Democratic Presidential Candidates Express Support for House Prescription Drug Importation Bill
Eight of the nine Democratic presidential candidates have said they support allowing people in the United States to buy FDA-approved prescription drugs sold in Canada and other industrialized nations, where they are often cheaper, the Washington Post reports. "Importation is an appropriate response to the drug companies' cartel-like attitude toward affordable drug distribution in America," Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) said, adding, "The average American is outraged and increasingly economically burdened by it." According to the Post, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, "has been active on the prescription drug issue for some time" and has encouraged seniors and a Vermont advocacy group to buy U.S.-made drugs from Canada. Dean called "ludicrous" claims by some reimportation opponents that the medications could be dangerous. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) said, "We've got a crisis here, and there's something unfair happening." Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) said that allowing people to buy drugs from Canada would "provide some answer to the problems people are having." According to the Post, all the Democratic presidential candidates except retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who does not have a stated position on reimportation, support a reimportation bill (HR 2427) approved by the House (Connolly, Washington Post, 10/8). 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, 10/2). Jeffrey Trewhitt, spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "There are much better solutions [than reimportation] for Americans, starting with the (proposed) Medicare prescription drug benefit." Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, said that the Democratic presidential candidates "can score points" by supporting a "relatively modest" reimportation bill, while President Bush is "under pressure" to deliver a "more ambitions and costly" Medicare bill that would assist seniors in paying for medications, according to the Post (Washington Post, 10/8).
Gutknecht and Emerson "appear to be taking some liberties" in saying that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson may support the reimportation, Kevin Keane, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, writes in a letter to the editor in The Hill (Keane, The Hill, 10/8). Last week, Emerson and Gutknecht said that Thompson told them that he would implement a reimportation bill if the legislation did not require him to certify the safety of medications purchased in other nations. Emerson said that Thompson told her and Gutknecht, "You give me a bill, I will make it work. If you tell me I have to do this, I will" (California Healthline, 10/2). While Thompson would implement Gutknecht and Emerson's bill if it became law because doing so would be his responsibility, it is "a huge leap" to suggest that acknowledgement of that responsibility means that Thompson "is supporting a particular piece of legislation or that the administration's position is changing," Keane writes. The administration does not support the Gutknecht reimportation bill and "still has strong safety concerns about reimporting drugs," Keane maintains. Because passing "comprehensive legislation to modernize Medicare" is the "best way" to help seniors reduce drug costs, Thompson's "top priority for addressing the prescription drug issue" is working with Medicare conference committee members to reach a final agreement, Keane concludes (The Hill, 10/8).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the Department of Justice's lawsuit against Rx Depot, a company that helps people in the United States purchase prescription drugs from Canada (Allen, "Morning Edition," NPR, 10/8). The suit seeks an injunction to close Rx Depot and its partner Rx of Canada. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma, alleges that allowing people to purchase drugs from foreign nations "poses significant risks to the public health" and that the prescription drugs sent to Rx Depot customers do not have the same assurance of safety as those approved for sale in the United States (California Healthline, 9/12). NPR reports that Rx Depot customers have been writing and calling the FDA and members of Congress to support the company and hundreds of people are expected to travel to Tulsa, Okla. The segment includes comments from FDA Senior Associate Commissioner William Hubbard; Overland Park, Kan., Rx Depot franchise owner Mary Hunt-Hansen; Rx Deport President Carl Moore; and Rx Depot customers ("Morning Edition," NPR, 10/8). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.