Senators Urge Frist To Call for Vote on Legislation To Allow Reimportation of Prescription Drugs
A bipartisan group of six senators in a letter released Monday called on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to schedule a vote during the current session of Congress on legislation they sponsored that would allow the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, despite Frist's recent comments that action was "doubtful," the Washington Post reports (Dewar, Washington Post, 9/21). Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) signed the letter (CongressDaily, 9/21). Under the senators' bill (S 2328), U.S. residents could legally 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. The bill has support from a bipartisan group of senators, as well as AARP and several other advocacy groups (California Healthline, 9/20).
The senators wrote, "We understand that there is limited time remaining in this session of Congress, but we believe that American consumers desperately need the relief from high drug costs that our bill will provide. Our bill makes safety the top priority while allowing for legal prescription drug importation." The senators believe there are as many as 75 votes in favor of the legislation in the Senate.
Frist spokesperson Amy Call said that Frist's position likely has not changed since earlier this month when he doubted he could find time to bring up the bill this year. Call said, "Safety is the number one concern and until we have a safe way to do it, he's not prepared to bring [the bill] up and send it to the American people" (Washington Post, 9/21). She added, "Until safety concerns can be addressed, he's not going to put the American people and a very secure prescription drug system in jeopardy" (Schuler/Carey, CQ Today, 9/21). The senators could employ a Senate rule that allows a senator or group of senators to call for a vote; however, such a move could be blocked by an objection from opponents, according to the Post (Washington Post, 9/21).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday reported on the FDA warning against the reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from other nations. The segment includes comments from FDA Senior Associate Commissioner of Policy and Planning William Hubbard and Harvey Organ, owner of CanadaRx, a Hamilton, Ontario-based mail-order pharmacy (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/20). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.