Senate Moves Closer to Drug Reimportation Measure

Seeking ways to reduce the soaring costs of prescription drugs for American consumers, the Senate approved their drug-reimportation provision for a final vote. That final vote is slated to occur at some point next week, even as President Bush has threatened to veto the measure.

Senators supporting the measure believe it would save consumers as much as $50 billion over the course of a decade. The legislation would allow for the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and several other nations, and the drugs would be available to both individual consumers and commercial distributors. The drugs would need to come only from FDA-approved pharmacies and facilities. However, opponents of the idea say that it would be too difficult for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the safety of the reimported drugs.

The Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, was initially introduced to the Senate in January. However, the drug-reimportation legislation is now being tacked onto a much larger bill that includes new FDA drug safety measures and renewal of the controversial Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), among other provisions.

“We want to put downward pressure on the price of prescription drugs,” said Sen. Dorgan when the drug-reimportation bill was first introduced. “Currently, the big drug manufacturers can monopoly price their medicines here, and as a result, American consumers pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. The fact is, miracle drugs perform no miracles for people who can’t afford them. It’s time to stand up for all Americans and make prescription medicines more affordable by putting an end to monopoly pricing and putting market price competition to work.”

Added Sen. Snowe: “It is indisputable that Americans pay far too much for prescription drugs and the cost of brand name drugs is continuing to increase. This legislation leaves no stone unturned to assure that the importation of prescription drugs will be safe and meet the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration, while delivering real savings to American consumers. Consideration and passage of this legislation in the Senate is long overdue, and this must be the year we move forward together to ensure access to medication is both affordable and safe.”

At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Trade in March, Sen. Dorgan tangled with Billy Tauzin, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), who, as expected, is vehemently against drug reimportation. “He failed to acknowledge more than 46 million uninsured Americans and other American consumers who cannot afford to pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world,” Dorgan said of Tauzin.

In the original version of the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act, the senators noted that “Americans unjustly pay up to five times more to fill their prescriptions than consumers in other countries” and that “American consumers pay the highest prices for brand pharmaceuticals in the world,” despite the fact that the U.S. is the “largest market for pharmaceuticals in the world.” The also explain that the legislation would actually improve drug safety because it would require the FDA to play a regulatory role in all drug imports, something that it doesn’t currently do.

The drug-reimportation measure enjoys wide bipartisan support; the Senate voted 63 to 28 in favor of moving the provision to a final vote. However, since it is now tied to a much larger piece of FDA-safety legislation, the provision’s chances of survival may be compromised. Since many Senators are anxious to move their other safety measures forward, the reimportation provision, a tremendous bane for the pharmaceutical lobby, may get tossed overboard in order to keep the larger bill moving forward.

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