HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson Misses Deadline To Deliver Report on Prescription Drug Reimportation
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday said that he would not deliver a report on prescription drug reimportation to Congress by Wednesday as required by the Medicare law adopted last year, CongressDaily reports. Thompson told reporters that Surgeon General Richard Carmona was sending him the report on Tuesday but added that he would be unable to review it by the deadline because of international travel. "I'm confident we'll get it there very, very shortly," Thompson said.
A "bipartisan group of House lawmakers is irked" over the delay of the feasibility report, which will include a task force's recommendations on reimportation, according to CongressDaily (Heil, CongressDaily, 12/8). The announcement of the delay came on the same day that HHS said it plans to purchase 1.2 million doses of flu vaccines from a plant in Germany.
The Washington Post reports that "although administration officials contend that the two are distinct matters, the juxtaposition of the announcements sparked swift and harsh criticism from elected leaders in both parties who accused the White House of hypocrisy."
Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) said, "Here we are buying flu vaccine from Germany and yet they're sitting on a report that probably says it is dangerous to purchase medicines from other countries." He added, "Why is it that the FDA can do this safely but your local pharmacist can't?" (Connolly, Washington Post, 12/8).
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) on Tuesday said he might try to delay the nomination of a replacement for Thompson as HHS secretary in order to force a vote on reimportation, CongressDaily reports.
Earlier this year, Dorgan threatened to place a hold on Mark McClellan's nomination as CMS administrator over a reimportation vote, but the delay was averted by an agreement between Dorgan and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Frist agreed to consider ways to safely purchase drugs from abroad if Dorgan allowed McClellan's nomination to proceed.
However, Dorgan has since criticized Frist for not scheduling a vote on reimportation legislation, and on Tuesday he said that he would hesitate to enter a similar agreement for an HHS nominee. McClellan is the likely choice to replace Thompson, and Dorgan said McClellan would ultimately be confirmed by the Senate even if the nomination is delayed (CongressDaily, 12/8).
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced reimportation legislation in the 108th Congress, but Frist has said he did not allow the bill to come up for a floor vote because of safety concerns, CQ HealthBeat News reports. Grassley in August said Frist was "doing everything he can to keep the bill from being up for a vote. If it was up, it would pass 75-25." A Grassley aide on Tuesday said Grassley will introduce importation legislation in the 109th Congress (Carey, CQ HealthBeat News, 12/7).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday included an interview with NPR correspondents Julie Rovner and Joanne Silberner about the report on reimportation (Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/8). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, NPR's "Day to Day" on Tuesday reported on whether Canadian consumers are concerned about the safety of their drug supply and the United States government's opposition to the reimportation because of safety issues. The segment includes comments from President Bush; Phillippe Coulliard, health minister of Quebec; and customers at a Montreal pharmacy (Mann, "Day to Day," NPR, 12/7). The complete 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.