Senators Meet To Discuss Rival Prescription Drug Reimportation Bills
Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) recently have been meeting with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to discuss competing bills that would allow U.S. residents to import lower-cost prescription drugs from other countries, the Hill reports. According to the Hill, the senators have been meeting to discuss "how a reimportation measure might move on the [Senate] floor."
If Republican and Democratic senators reached agreement on a compromise bill or one of the existing proposals, "they would likely have the political strength to prevail over the objections of leadership and pass a bill through the Senate," according to the Hill.
Vitter in February said the bill (S 334) sponsored by Dorgan is overly bureaucratic, adding that the measure he is sponsoring has the best chance of being enacted. Vitter last month said that his bill (S 109) has "major support in the Senate." He added, "This is a bill we passed through the House, the only bill that's passed either body."
He also said that he was working with Dorgan on efforts to pass a single measure "and avoid a conference if at all possible." Vitter in an interview called his meeting with Dorgan "really good" but added that he and Dorgan have not reached an agreement and maintain separate bills "[f]or the time being." Vitter said that he and Dorgan have "cooperated and supported each other's efforts in every way."
Thune, who supports Vitter's bill, said, "I'd like to see the leadership pick up his bill and move it. It'd be great for [Vitter] and great for us if our leadership [brought the bill to the floor]. They can be proactive about it, or they can wait for it to be offered as an amendment and pass with 79 votes."
He added, "We're all going to vote for whatever gets to the floor. That's why the leadership would be wise to bring Vitter's bill to the floor. Something's going to pass."
Dorgan has said he has 31 co-sponsors for his bill, which he said has been "very carefully negotiated." Dorgan said, "We are going to have to force a vote on this because I don't think it's going to come voluntarily from leadership." Dorgan also noted that he was satisfied with Vitter's involvement in efforts to enact reimportation legislation.
Dorgan earlier this year threatened to delay the nomination of HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt unless the Senate addressed reimportation legislation but withdrew the threat after reaching a deal with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). Dorgan said that Enzi promised to hold a hearing on his bill within 90 days of Leavitt's confirmation.
However, "a Senate Republican source" said that Enzi agreed to hold hearings on the general issue of reimportation, which he did in February, the Hill reports.
Vitter's reimportation bill is identical to a companion bill Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) introduced in January (Earle, The Hill, 3/30). The Gutknecht bill (HR 328) also has support from Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) The bill is a revised version of legislation Gutknecht sponsored in 2003 (HR 2427), which passed the House in July of that year.
The original bill would have allowed U.S. pharmacists to import prescription drugs manufactured in 25 industrialized nations, provided that the medications are manufactured by companies that use counterfeit-resistant technologies and that the companies have registered their production operations with FDA (California Healthline, 1/27).
The bill introduced by Gutknecht has 77 co-sponsors. Gutknecht has said his goal is to attract 220 co-sponsors (The Hill, 3/30).
Dorgan's bill is a revised version of one he introduced last year, which would have allowed 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 have allowed 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 have returned with as much as a 90-day supply of prescription drugs for personal use.
After one year, pharmacists and wholesalers could have reimported 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 had 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.
In addition, the revised legislation would phase in FDA review of notices of the foreign versions of FDA-approved drugs to determine if they are the same or different than existing drugs approved for use (California Healthline, 2/10).