Rx DRUG COSTS: Conferees Approve Reimport Bill
"After a highly partisan struggle," House and Senate conferees negotiating details regarding the agriculture appropriations bill (HR 4461) last night approved prescription medication reimportation legislation attached to that bill, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. While many legislators had embraced the measure as one health care initiative "they could pass before adjourning for the Nov. 7 elections," the "harmony didn't last as Democrats objected to changes being offered to the measure by majority Republicans" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/6). Under the provision, pharmacies and wholesalers would be permitted to purchase and reimport U.S-made medications that had been shipped overseas for sale, as well as foreign-manufactured medications. The provision also states that only drugs that are FDA-approved and manufactured in a FDA-certified facility can be reimported. The FDA would receive $23 million in additional funding to perform duties the provision requires, including "writing complex rules to implement it," a process expected to take at least two years.
Despite the agreement, Democrats "denounced" the provision, stating it was "so riddled with loopholes inserted at the behest of the drug industry it would be unworkable," the Wall Street Journal reports. While Democrats had offered changes that "House Democrats insisted were needed to ensure the program will work," the conferees did not accept them. Among those changes was a provision that would have required drugmakers to give importers FDA-approved dosage information, an amendment that would have deleted a provision limiting the foreign countries from which drugs can be purchased and another amendment that would have eliminated a requirement that the provision expire five years after the regulations become effective (McGinley/Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 10/6). Democrats also said that Republicans had "gutted" the legislation in agreeing to allow drug companies "broad discretion over contracts with importers." The AP/Las Vegas Sun reports that Democrats are worried that pharmaceutical companies would "discourage importers, restrict supplies, inflate prices and make the entire program nonfunctional" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/6). Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) said, "Your drug manufacturers are going to be smiling their Cheshire cat smile" (Wall Street Journal, 10/6). Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who wrote a House version of the legislation, said, "The pharmaceutical industry, which has spent $40 million in opposition to this legislation ... got a good return on their investment tonight" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/6).
Drug Companies Object, Too
Despite Democrats' contention that the approved provision favors the drug industry, drug company lobbyists said they oppose the provision, on safety grounds, the Wall Street Journal reports. Deborah Steelman, who "represents pharmaceutical interests," said that the provision "has long term, dangerous implications, in terms of safety." The drug industry also said that the provision "was an unconstitutional infringement on their right to do business" because it prevents them from barring importers from reselling their drugs in the United States (Wall Street Journal, 10/6). The bill now will be considered by the House and Senate (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/6).