HHS Secretary Thompson Says He Could Allow Prescription Drug Reimportation
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Thursday told members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies that he "could support allowing drugs to be reimported from Canada if Congress put strict conditions on the practice," CongressDaily reports. Thompson said that he would support legislation to allow reimportation, provided that such bills would apply only to medications purchased from Canada and would provide HHS with the "resources to inspect the manufacturing and inspect the packages." At the hearing, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said, "I haven't seen a whole lot of people dying in Canada from mislabeled drugs." Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) also criticized Thompson for the appointment of FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, who opposes reimportation, to lead a committee that will study the safety of the practice. "It's a stacked jury," she said. Thompson promised that the committee would make "a fair and balanced" examination of the safety of reimportation and would include supporters of the practice at hearings on the issue. Thompson at the hearing also raised concerns about a reimportation provision in the new Medicare law. "I cannot certify that all drugs coming in (from other countries) are safe," which the law requires, he said, adding, "I'm telling you what the law is, and the law can be changed" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/4).
In related news, the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday voted 14-8 to approve an amendment to the Senate fiscal year 2005 budget resolution to allow for "the safe reimportation of FDA-approved prescription drugs," CongressDaily reports. According to CongressDaily, five Republican members of the committee "broke ranks" to support the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Stabenow said that the amendment would save government-administered health programs about $4.5 billion over five years. Committee Chair Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said that the amendment would not ensure the safety of prescription drugs reimported from other nations. The committee approved the budget resolution, sponsored by Nickles, on a 12-10 vote (Gruenwald/Hess, CongressDaily, 3/5).
The Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday examined the "pressure" that AARP plans to impose on U.S. pharmaceutical companies to "keep prices down and to support importation of lower-priced medicines from Canada" (Loyd, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/5). At a Kaiser Family Foundation forum Wednesday, AARP CEO Bill Novelli said that AARP would encourage the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada. Novelli said that AARP will write a letter to PhRMA within the next few days in support of reimportation (California Healthline, 3/4). Novelli also plans to ask individual pharmaceutical companies to support reimportation. In addition, AARP plans to launch a program to study the costs of prescription drugs and provide the information to members and the public, according to Novelli. Novelli said, "Importation is not the long-term solution to America's drug-price problems, but it is necessary at this time until we can get prices under control" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/5).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.