Frist Says Vote on Legislation To Allow Reimportation of Prescription Drugs Not Likely Before Election
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday said that he likely will not hold a vote on legislation to allow the reimport of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada before the November election because of a lack of time and concerns about the safety of the practice, the AP/Detroit Free Press reports. Some Senate Democrats said that they might attempt to force a vote on such legislation (Sherman, AP/Detroit Free Press, 9/9). One bill (S 2493), sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), would require FDA to establish a system to allow reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada within one year and medications from European Union nations within three years. Under the legislation, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson could restrict, inspect and control the ports of access through which reimported medications enter the United States.
The bill would not penalize pharmaceutical companies that limit the number of prescription drugs available for reimportation (California Healthline, 7/21). However, Gregg has failed to "muster the votes to push" the legislation through the committee, Congress Daily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 9/8). A second bill (S 2328) -- sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D) and a number of other senators -- has fewer restrictions than the Gregg legislation and has the support of many committee members. Frist earlier this year promised Dorgan a vote on a reimportation bill in exchange for his decision to lift a hold on the nomination of Mark McClellan as CMS administrator (California Healthline, 7/21).
Frist said, "In good conscience, I'm not going to hurt the American people by taking legislation that hasn't been carefully considered by this body." He added, "It looks doubtful, just given we have 23 days" (AP/Detroit Free Press, 9/9). Dorgan, in reference to his agreement with Frist, said, "We had a commitment" (CongressDaily, 9/8). Daschle said, "This has been debated over and over and over again. With the broad bipartisan consensus, we must act. And we intend to see the Senate take a position and have a vote" (AP/Detroit Free Press, 9/9).
Dorgan said that he plans to meet with co-sponsors of his bill to develop a plan to move the legislation this year. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans sought to "soften any potential political fallout from inaction on reimportation" with the release of a Senate Republican Policy Committee analysis that found prescription drug wholesalers and distributors, not consumers, would receive most of the cost savings from reimportation, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 9/8).