Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. John Kerry Criticizes President Bush for Prescription Drug Reimportation Position
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) on Thursday said that President Bush has begun to lessen his opposition to the reimportation of lower-cost, U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and suggested that opinion polls may have influenced the change, the Chicago Tribune reports. Kerry said that Bush has opposed efforts to legalize reimportation, but, "[n]ow, just the other day, the president began to waver on this" (Pearson, Chicago Tribune, 8/20).
"He can't even make up his mind about importing drugs," Kerry said at a campaign appearance in Derry, N.H. "Either you're for importing drugs from Canada or you're not," he continued (Romano, Washington Post, 8/20). Kerry said, "Do you think he's reading the polls?" This month, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health released results from a survey that found 80% of Medicare beneficiaries supported legalization of drug reimportation from Canada if it would lower prescription drug costs (Chicago Tribune, 8/20).
On Wednesday, Bush at a campaign event in Wisconsin said that although Congress faces a lot of pressure to pass legislation to legalize reimportation, the safety of the practice remains unclear. He said, "I'm looking at this," adding, "If it's safe, then it makes sense." He added, "What I don't want is somebody to say 'Oh gosh, I'd be able to buy a cheaper drug from Canada' and (then) that drug ends up coming from another country without proper inspection and proper safety" (California Healthline, 8/19).
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Bush's statements on drug reimportation do not reflect a change in policy. "It's always been a safety issue," McClellan said. A task force created by the Medicare law by "late summer" will issue its findings on whether the safety of reimported drugs could be guaranteed, according to a spokesperson for Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
However, Democrats, including Kerry, have alleged that Bush's opposition to reimportation is motivated by support from the pharmaceutical industry, the Tribune reports. "With less than 80 days until the election and most seniors saying they don't like his sham of a Medicare bill, it looks like George W. Bush has told his friends at the big drug companies, 'Hey, don't worry. I got to sound like I'm for [drug reimportation], but I'm still with you,'" Kerry spokesperson Phil Singer said (Chicago Tribune, 8/20).
In other campaign news, Kerry on Thursday discussed a study he commissioned that found increasing health care costs have slowed job growth, as some employers offering extensive health benefits have eliminated full-time jobs to save on health insurance costs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The study -- by Laura Tyson, dean of the London School of Business and a former economic adviser to former President Clinton, and University of California-Los Angeles professor Sarah Reber -- found that U.S. industries that traditionally offered extensive health benefits reported "significant" job losses between 2000 and 2002, the Times reports.
"Many have begun hiring more part-time employees and temporary employees ... who often don't get health insurance at all," Kerry said at a speech in Boston. He added, "You tell me: Is that the kind of economy we're trying to build?" Kerry said, "It doesn't take four years to understand that people are getting crunched by the cost of health care" (Gold, Los Angeles Times, 8/20). "George Bush has had four years to talk to you about health care" and to "prove to you that he's got a plan," Kerry said (Washington Post, 8/20).
In Boston, Kerry detailed his own health plan (Dalrymple, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/19). The plan would cost about $653 billion over 10 years and would expand health coverage to an estimated 26.7 million U.S. residents. The plan would provide government subsidies for the cost of catastrophic health care expenses, reducing the cost to employers and employees by an estimated 10%. Kerry has said he would help finance the plan with the repeal of tax cuts for families whose annual incomes exceed $200,000 (California Healthline, 8/19).
Kerry also said his plan would provide tax credits to small businesses that provide health care benefits, people between the ages of 55 and 64 and low- to middle-income workers; allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices through Medicare; permit drug reimportation; and use technology to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in the health care system. "When I'm president, America will stop being the only advanced country that doesn't understand that health care is not a privilege for the elected or the connected or the wealthy but a right for all Americans," Kerry said (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/19). He added that "nothing, nothing is as significant as health care" (Rayno, Manchester Union Leader, 8/20).
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) responded on behalf of the Bush campaign, saying that Kerry's health care plan would not reduce expenses. "Instead, my colleague would shift the lion's share of the cost to the American taxpayers and place restrictive mandates on employers, further limiting their potential for growth and the ability to compete," Frist said (Los Angeles Times, 8/20). The report from the Kerry campaign is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to access the report.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.