Federal Task Force Holds Final Meeting on Reimportation of Prescription Drugs
The HHS Task Force on Drug Importation on Friday held a sixth and final public meeting in which medical and pharmacy groups testified that they "seemed resigned to some level" to reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from other nations, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Sherman, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/14). The 13-member task force has held a series of meetings as part of a study -- mandated by the new Medicare law -- on the safety of reimportation and the effect of the practice on prescription drug development. Task force members, who were appointed by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, can consult with other federal officials and will hold a total of six "listening sessions" with consumer advocates, health care purchasers, providers, health care industry representatives, international stakeholders and the public. In the first meeting, consumer advocates testified that the United States could establish a safe reimportation system. In the second meeting, pharmaceutical company executives testified that reimportation would reduce the incentive for companies to invest in new medications and allow more counterfeit treatments to enter the United States. In the third meeting, the public testified about the effects of reimportation. In the fourth meeting, U.S. residents and Canadian pharmacy groups testified that Canada could not support legalized reimportation and that the practice has affected the Canadian health care system. In the fifth meeting, state officials and the head of CVS/Pharmacy testified in support of reimportation. The task force must report the results of the study to Congress by Dec. 1, although Thompson has said that he hopes to complete the study by mid-summer (California Healthline, 5/6).
Marv Shepherd, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Texas who testified on behalf of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, said that reimportation is "possible to do, but you'd have to be very careful." He recommended "limiting it to certain drugs and tightly controlling the supply chain," Reuters/Houston Chronicle reports (Reuters/Houston Chronicle, 5/15). However, Shepherd said, "It's only a matter of time before a horrific tragedy occurs involving imported drugs" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/14). Susan Hildebrandt, assistant director of government relations at the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that the recent increase in support for reimportation is "symptomatic of a larger problem, the lack of affordability of prescription drugs" (Sherman, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5/14). Surgeon General Richard Carmona, chair of the task force, said that members would send the results of their study to Thompson before the November election, adding, "I don't want to stifle discussion or important input, but I want to keep the process moving along."
In related news, six Democratic governors last week sent a letter to President Bush that called for his support for the legalization of reimportation. "We urge you to tell your panel to make any recommendations immediately so that we can proceed" with state reimportation programs, the letter said. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who supports reimportation, arranged a telephone conference call with the governors and the news media. However, Trent Duffy, a spokesperson for the White House, said that Bush will wait for recommendations from the task force before he takes a position on reimportation. "We're not interested in complying with artificial deadlines. The president is interested in the safety and security of the American people," Duffy said. In a separate action, a number of senators have asked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to schedule a vote on legislation that would legalize reimportation before the July 4 congressional recess, Senate aides said. However, Frist has said that "he is unsure whether the Senate will vote" on such legislation this year, the AP/Chronicle reports (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/14).
In other reimportation news, a study released on Monday by Shepherd found that Canadian pharmacies could not meet U.S. demand for prescription drugs if the United States legalized reimportation, USA Today reports. Shepherd conducted the study, which used data from both the United States and Canada, at the request of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). According to the study:
- Canada spent $4.7 billion on prescription drug imports in 2003, compared with $2.3 billion in 1999.
- About 44% of the prescription drugs that Canada imported in 2003 came from the United States, and the remainder came from more than 80 other nations, such as Columbia, Cuba, Guyana, India, Ireland, Italy and Mexico.
- If all U.S. residents purchased their medications from Canada, the Canadian prescription drug supply would last only 38 days.
- If half of U.S. seniors purchased their medications from Canada, the Canadian prescription drug supply would have to increase by 2.5 times to meet the demand.