Legalization of Prescription Drug Reimportation ‘Inevitable,’ HHS Secretary Thompson Says
The passage of legislation that would allow the reimportation of prescription drugs is "inevitable," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said on Tuesday at a press conference for regional newspapers, the Los Angeles Times reports (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 5/5). Thompson said, "I think Congress is going to pass" reimportation legislation (Sherman, AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/5). He added, "If it passes and the president signs it, we will implement it." Thompson said that he could not predict whether President Bush would sign a reimportation bill because "I don't know what shape it will be in," but he added that he would not advise the president to veto such legislation (Dodge, Dallas Morning News, 5/4). However, Thompson "downplayed the potential savings for U.S. consumers," the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 5/5). "It will be expensive" to ensure the safety of reimported prescription drugs, Thompson said, adding, "You will have to have inspectors go into the manufacturing process. ... We will have to have some kind of investigatory force and some kind of additional inspectors" (Dallas Morning News, 5/4).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "Thompson is right that the American people are demanding access to drugs at the same fair prices available to Canadians and Europeans," adding, "But passage of a real program will continue to be an uphill battle as long as Bush stands with the pharmaceutical industry against American patients" (Los Angeles Times, 5/5). According to the Boston Globe, the statements from Thompson on Tuesday mark the "first indication that the pressure is beginning to erode opposition" to reimportation in the Bush administration (Rowland, Boston Globe, 5/5). However, Bill Pierce, spokesperson for HHS, said that Thompson was "merely reflecting the growing momentum" of reimportation legislation in Congress and does not endorse the practice, the Washington Post reports. "The administration position has not changed," he added (Connolly/Dewar, Washington Post, 5/5). Pierce said that the administration currently is focused on the Medicare prescription drug discount card program, not reimportation, as a means to reduce medication costs for U.S. residents. White House spokesperson Trent Duffy said, "The president's focus is on making sure that seniors and all Americans have the safest drugs available and have them made affordable as possible." Duffy also cited FDA concerns about the safety of reimportation, adding, "It's one thing if you get a Kool-Aid recipe wrong. It's another thing if you get someone's prescription drugs wrong" (Los Angeles Times, 5/5). Wanda Moebius, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "Two secretaries of health, including Secretary Thompson, have said importation cannot be done without compromising patient safety and public health. That's the current law of the land and we believe the right way to go to protect patients from tainted, counterfeit, and unapproved drugs that can sneak into the country" (Boston Globe, 5/5).
In related news, the federal Task Force on Drug Importation will hold a fifth meeting on Wednesday and will hear testimony from governors and mayors who support reimportation, the Morning News reports (Dallas Morning News, 5/4). 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 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. 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, 4/28).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.