Wall Street Journal Examines Prospects for Prescription Drug Reimportation Bill
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined how legislation that would allow U.S. residents to purchase prescription drugs from other nations "could be one of the few bills to draw bipartisan support this election year." According to the Journal, "Democrats are eager to do something that they can say will lower drug prices" and some Republicans "want to show that they, too, can be tough on the unpopular drug industry" (Lueck/Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 4/13). Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) last week introduced a bill (S 2307) that would allow people in the United States to purchase medications from Canada (Fagan, Washington Times, 4/11). The legislation would create a 90-day deadline for FDA to develop a system to register and inspect Canadian suppliers. After that, U.S. consumers would be able to purchase prescription drugs only from Canadian companies that have been inspected and registered by FDA. After two years, the bill would allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from other countries, including Australia, Japan and members of the European Union. To reimport prescription drugs, U.S. consumers would need to obtain prescriptions from U.S. doctors and could only purchase treatments approved by FDA. The bill would not allow the reimportation of some types of prescription drugs, including potentially addictive painkillers. Grassley said that the cost of setting up an FDA inspection and registration system would be covered by fees paid by the Canadian exporters (California Healthline, 4/9). Earlier reimportation bills "were largely political theater" that allowed lawmakers to vote for importing drugs but gave the administration the authority to block imports, the Journal reports. However, Grassley's bill "demonstrates that Congress is looking more seriously at how to safely import drugs than ever," according to the Journal. Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) each are working on their own reimportation bills, and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) are discussing a measure, the Journal reports. "My guess is that [lawmakers] will be able to coalesce around something," Snowe said.
According to the Journal, the drug industry "can't even be sure of continued opposition to drug imports from the Bush administration," which has appointed a task force to study how to reimport drugs safely as part of the new Medicare law (Wall Street Journal, 4/13). The 13-member Task Force on Drug Importation, whose members were appointed by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, can consult with other federal officials and will hold a total of six "listening sessions" with consumer advocates, health care purchasers, providers, health care industry representatives, international stakeholders and the public. The results of the study must be reported to Congress by Dec. 1, although Thompson wants the task force to finish by mid-summer (California Healthline, 4/7). According to the Journal, the early deadline for the results of the study "has the industry braced for the possibility that the administration might propose a limited experiment with imports before the election." An unnamed lobbyist for the drug industry said, "There's this huge tidal wave. I think it's just getting harder and harder even for people that have some sense to hold off this terrible crashing wave." However, the Journal reports that "the partisan bickering -- and the short, election-year legislative session -- leads some Capitol Hill insiders to predict no [reimportation] legislation will emerge this year." In addition, the Journal reports there are "tough legal and technical issues" surrounding the reimportation issue, including patent law, which "might throw up an unexpected barrier." According to the Journal, patent law could give drug companies "an opening to sue the foreign seller or U.S. buyer [of reimported drugs] for patent infringement," and changing patent law would affect products other than prescription drugs and "raise broader trade questions." In addition, determining if reimported drugs contain the same active ingredient as FDA-approved drugs would be a "major, massive challenge," former FDA official Carl Peck of Georgetown University said (Wall Street Journal, 4/13).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.