National, State, Local Lawmakers Push for Legalization of Prescription Drug Reimportation at Hearing
At a congressional field hearing in Boston on Tuesday, national, state and local lawmakers promoted plans to reimport lower-cost U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from Canada, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (Webb, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 10/29). During the forum, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) testified that potential savings from reimporting drugs for Minnesota's 50,000 public service employees could be "in the tens of million of dollars," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. He added, "I don't want to overstate this, but there is a rebellion. People are already flipping off the government and doing an end run." According to the Star Tribune, Pawlenty plans to establish a Web site that would direct state residents to state-approved Canadian pharmacies, as well as offer incentives to state employees who buy their drugs through the Web site and perhaps have the state reimport bulk purchases of drugs. Springfield, Mass., Mayor Michael Albano (D), who established a program through which city employees, retirees and their dependents can purchase prescription drugs from Canada, testified, "As a mayor I have to choose between proper health care for my employees and putting police and firefighters out on the street" (Diaz, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/29). During the hearing, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said that he and other lawmakers would call for Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate whether drug companies are violating antitrust laws by limiting sales to Canadian pharmacies, the Boston Herald reports. Pawlenty called limited drug sales to Canadian pharmacies "a real risk factor to our plans" (Heldt Powell, Boston Herald, 10/29). In addition, officials at the hearing offered "[s]harp criticism" of the FDA and the U.S. drug industry for their contention that reimportation from Canada is potentially unsafe, the Boston Globe reports (Rowland, Boston Globe, 10/29). Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said, "Until I read about large numbers of dead Canadians ... whose deaths were caused by prescription medications, I will be very skeptical" (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 10/29).
The forum -- which was conducted by a nine-member, bipartisan panel -- did not include testimony from any opponents of reimportation. Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) said that the drug industry has "already spent millions to influence Washington lawmakers," adding, "You don't need to have them at a public hearing in Boston" (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/29). However, Christopher Anderson, executive director of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, said, "The fact that they didn't ask for input from the biotech industry applies more to a successful pep rally than to a serious effort to find solutions to the high cost of health care" (Boston Globe, 10/29). Wanda Moebius, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said that safety "is a major concern" with reimportation, adding that reimportation will turn Canada into a "post office for drugs made elsewhere around the world that are not made to safe standards and are then shipped through Canada to American citizens" (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 10/29).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.