Lawmakers Ask Attorney General To Investigate Limits on Supply of Prescription Drugs to Canadian Pharmacies
Twenty-two members of Congress have sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft that requests an investigation of pharmaceutical companies that have restricted supplies to Canadian wholesalers and pharmacies to determine whether the companies have violated federal antitrust laws, the New York Times reports. The letter, sent on the stationery of Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), states, "We must not allow pharmaceutical companies to abuse American consumers and place lives at risk by illegally manipulating supply" (Harris, New York Times, 11/1). Gutknecht and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) have sponsored House-passed legislation that would allow U.S. residents to purchase FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations (California Healthline, 10/14). According to the Times, the lawmakers sent the letter to convince Medicare conferees to include a provision in the final bill that would allow the purchase of FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations, rather than only from Canada, by "pointing out how effectively the drug industry has controlled drug supplies to Canada" (New York Times, 11/1). A number of pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Wyeth and Pfizer, recently have limited their supplies to Canadian wholesalers and pharmacies to prevent reimportation of their products to the United States in response to proposals by several state and city governments that would allow the practice (California Healthline, 10/31). Bryan Anderson, press secretary for Gutknecht, said, "This underscores that the Canada-only proposals might not be the best solution." However, Pfizer CEO Henry McKinnell said, "I'm not sure that the Congress of the United States could take away our patent and trademark rights in Canada" (New York Times, 11/1).
Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (D-Ill.) has asked the White House to force Canada and other nations into negotiations on prescription drug prices "so foreign consumers share the costs of U.S. drug research paid for by U.S. customers," the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Prescription drugs cost between 20% and 50% less in Canada than in the United States because of government price controls and the weak Canadian dollar. Hastert said that he has asked HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and the White House to recommend that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick address the issue. Hastert spokesperson Michael Stokke also said that the House speaker hopes to meet with Zoellick in the next two weeks to discuss the issue. According to Hastert, proposals to allow the reimportation of lower-cost U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from other nations are "populist schemes" that would fail in the long term (Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/2).
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday examined Springfield Meds, a reimportation program in Springfield, Mass., that "has emerged as a model for cities and states across" the United States (Mehren, Los Angeles Times, 11/1). Under the program, which began in July, the city employees, retirees and their dependents who receive health insurance through the city can fax their prescriptions to a group of Ontario pharmacies and receive their medications in the mail. The program will save the city an estimated $4 million each year on prescription drug costs. Springfield Mayor Michael Albano has said that the program does not violate the law because individuals, not city officials, receive the medications and because participation is optional (California Healthline, 10/14). Governments in Boston, New York City, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois have considered similar programs to reduce their prescription drug costs. Pharmaceutical companies, FDA officials and pharmacists oppose such programs over safety concerns (Los Angeles Times, 11/1).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.