Rx DRUG REIMPORTATION: Clinton, GOP Push Legislation
President Clinton told GOP leaders yesterday that he is ready to sign the Senate version of the drug reimportation bill, permitting drug wholesalers and pharmacists to import less expensive, U.S.-made drugs from abroad, the Wall Street Journal reports. Calling the legislation "a roundabout way to introduce price constraints" on the pharmaceutical companies that currently maintain exclusive rights on drug reimportation, the Wall Street Journal says Clinton's support is "significant because it clears the way for what could become the first legislation to directly target the way medicines are bought and sold in the United States." Unlike the House version of the bill, the Senate's "tougher and more expensive" legislation includes provisions to establish an FDA tracking and certification system for the medications. Clinton also wants Congress to approve the $23 million needed to fund the system (Wall Street Journal, 9/26). Earlier, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) sent a letter to Clinton that pledged their support in enacting "legislation that would allow seniors to buy lower-priced prescription drugs in countries like Canada," and offered to work with Clinton to "find an acceptable version that preserves the safety of our drug supply." U.S. drug manufacturers, fearful that reimportation "could take a bite out of their profits," are strenuously protesting the bill by arguing that the reimportation of drugs may expose Americans to potentially harmful unregulated or counterfeit medicines, the Chicago Tribune reports. "Congress should not go off half-cocked and pass legislation that clearly jeopardizes patient safety," Jeffrey Trewhitt of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America warns. He adds, "These drugs are researched, developed and produced here (in the U.S.) and then exported, and quite often the companies relinquish the chain of custody when the drugs are exported to someone else. ... The only way reimportation would work is if Congress allocates a significant amount of extra money to the FDA and waits years for implementation of a new regulatory program" (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 9/26). Because Congressional Republicans have long enjoyed significant campaign support from pharmaceutical makers and maintain a "long-standing loyalty to the industry," Democrats "hope the White House letter holds the GOP's feet to the fire on the issue" (Wall Street Journal, 9/26). Regardless, the Republicans' letter and Clinton's immediate response "reinforced expectations that the reimportation bill ... has a better chance of passage this year than any of the broader prescription drug proposals" (Dewar, Washington Post, 9/26). Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who was one of the first lawmakers to introduce reimportation legislation in the House, applauded Clinton's support. "I urge the Republican leadership to pass this legislation and not attempt to water it down," he said. "If we pass the Senate language, we can lower prescription drug costs in this country by 30%-50%, and this is what we must do"(Sanders release, 9/26).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.