Senate Not Likely To Vote on Prescription Drug Reimportation Bills This Year
Several Senate Republican leaders have said that they will not hold a vote this year on legislation to allow the reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from other nations, despite a bipartisan group of senators that "threatens to sidestep the leadership, push the legislation through and force lawmakers to act," Long Island Newsday reports. Senators have introduced several reimportation bills in the current legislative session (Barfield Berry, Long Island Newsday, 9/19).
One bill (S 2328), sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and a bipartisan group of senators, would allow U.S. residents to reimport as much as a 90-day supply of prescription drugs from FDA-approved Canadian pharmacies for personal use. After 90 days, the legislation would allow licensed pharmacists and prescription drug wholesalers to reimport medications from Canada. In addition, U.S. residents who travel to Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland or current European Union nations could return with as much as a 90-day supply of prescription drugs for personal use.
After one year, pharmacists and wholesalers could reimport medications from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland or EU nations that were members as of Jan. 1, 2003. Pharmacists and wholesalers that reimport prescription drugs would have to register with FDA; pay fees of as much as 1% of the price of the medications to fund the cost of additional federal inspectors and customs agents; and track and document the chain of custody of medications from manufacturer to consumer (California Healthline, 7/20).
The bill has support from a bipartisan group of senators, as well as AARP and several other advocacy groups (Long Island Newsday, 9/19).
A second bill (S 2493), sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) would create a system to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada within one year and the reimportation of medications from EU nations within three years.
The bill would require pharmaceutical companies, prescription drug wholesalers and other entities involved in reimportation to register with FDA and pay a fee that would supplement the cost of implementation and maintenance of the system. The legislation would only allow the reimportation of FDA-approved medications from FDA-approved manufacturing facilities. The legislation also would require pharmaceutical companies to label reimported medications separately from other U.S.-manufactured treatments.
Under the bill, the HHS secretary could restrict, inspect and control the ports of access through which reimported medications enter the United States. In addition, the legislation would require online pharmacies to obtain licenses and would mandate that physicians in other nations cosign prescriptions for reimported medications. The bill would not penalize pharmaceutical companies that limit the number of prescription drugs available for reimportation
(American Health Line, 9/9).
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) in March said that "the Senate will begin a process for developing proposals that would allow for the safe reimportation of FDA-approved prescription drugs."
However, Dorgan recently said, "I believe there has been a commitment (from Frist) for us to at least try to have votes on reimportation." He added, "The fact is, I feel there is a commitment here, and my hope is that commitment will be kept in the coming couple of weeks" (California Healthline, 9/15).
Amy Call, a spokesperson for Frist, said that the senator promised only to begin the legislative process on a reimportation bill, which was met when Gregg held hearings on the reimportation issue and introduced his legislation.
According to Frist, lawmakers must take time to examine the safety of reimportation before they consider legislation to allow the practice (Long Island Newsday, 9/19). Frist said, "I don't think we can address it adequately in the next 17 days" (Groppe, Gannett/Detroit News, 9/19).
Call said, "There needs to be a balance between safety and price and while the senator appreciates the importance of having affordable drugs, he also values the trust we have in our prescription drug system" (Long Island Newsday, 9/19).
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "The issue of safety is a hoax, and when somebody tells you it's not about money, folks, it is about money" (Gannett/Detroit News, 9/19).
Barry Piatt, a spokesperson for Dorgan, said, "It's going to happen and it's going to pass. Reimportation will save Americans who desperately need more affordable prescription medicine millions, if not billions, of dollars."
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said, "Again, the drug companies win, and the seniors lose." Supporters of the Dorgan bill have said that they will attach the legislation to other bills on which the Senate votes this year (Long Island Newsday, 9/19).