Senators Maintain They Have 60 Votes Required To Pass Bipartisan Bill To Allow Prescription Drug Reimportation
A group of Republican and Democratic senators maintain that they have "lined up" the 60 votes required to pass a bipartisan bill (S 2328) that would allow U.S. residents to purchase lower-cost, U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from other nations, which some observers "say could lead the White House to change its position" on the issue, The Hill reports (Earle, The Hill, 6/1). Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), U.S. residents could 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 medication from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland or European Union 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. House and Senate lawmakers on May 17 called on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to schedule a vote on the bill before the July 4 recess. In a May 19 meeting with Frist, Dorgan and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) requested a floor vote on the legislation in the near future (California Healthline, 5/24).
After the meeting, Dorgan said, "We would like during the next work period to have the Senate consider" the legislation, which has 21 co-sponsors. He added, "We think we have the votes to pass it." Snowe said, "It has the dynamic and momentum to pass this year," adding, "The question now is hopefully being able to convince (Frist) and others that this is the year to do it." She also predicted that President Bush would not veto the legislation. However, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who opposes the legislation, said, "You don't solve the problem just by reimporting drugs (when) you don't know where they're coming from." Breaux also said that President Bush likely would veto the bill. The Bush administration has opposed reimportation. However, some current and former administration officials recently have made "pragmatic statements acknowledging that the issue has picked up momentum" this year, and as a result, some observers predict that the administration is "laying the groundwork for a policy reversal on the issue," The Hill reports (The Hill, 6/1).
Officials for AARP have called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow reimportation and plan to work to "beef up and expand" the new Medicare law over the next several years, the Washington Times reports. AARP CEO Bill Novelli said that he hopes Congress will pass a reimportation bill this year. In addition, AARP is "pursuing opportunities to build on the new Medicare law" with provisions to allow more beneficiaries to qualify for subsidies to help them with their prescription drug costs, according to the Times. In addition, AARP supports provisions to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on prescription drug prices (Fagan, Washington Times, 5/29). AARP also has begun to publish a quarterly newspaper that lists changes in prescription drug prices. According to CQ Weekly, some critics maintain that AARP "should have pushed harder" for a reimportation provision in the Medicare law and that recent efforts by the group are "too little too late" (Carey, CQ Weekly, 5/29). Stuart Roy, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) said that House Republican leaders do not plan to expand the Medicare law in the near future. "Our plan is to allow the current law to take effect ... and to make sure that the maximum number of seniors can take advantage of the prescription drug card and the drug benefit ... before we allow anyone to start tinkering with a law that hasn't even taken effect." Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, said, "House Republicans saw the bill as a first step to reforming Medicare and making it more market-based, while AARP saw it as a first step toward a government program that covers drug costs" (Washington Times, 5/29). Novelli said, "We felt that on balance it was definitely a positive step forward. That law does not contain everything that is needed. And that's why we're working hard now on importation" (CQ Weekly, 5/29).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.