HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Senate Stalled Over Drug Importation Proposal

A bipartisan proposal to allow the importation of less expensive drugs from Canada (and some other countries) has stalled the Senate debate over health care reform. A story in the New York Times by Robert Pear reports that approval of the proposal could destroy a deal between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug costs:

The industry, represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, adamantly opposes legalizing additional imports and says the government could not guarantee the safety of imported medicines.

As members of Congress before last year’s election, President Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, supported efforts to allow drug imports. But now the Obama administration, like pharmaceutical companies and the Bush administration, is raising safety concerns.

The chief sponsor of the proposal, Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, said: “People are walking on eggshells. If we pass legislation allowing people freedom to import drugs, the pharmaceutical industry might not support the health care bill.”


In a letter to the Senate, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the commissioner of food and drugs, expressed concern that imported drugs might be contaminated or counterfeit because the Food and Drug Administration “does not have clear authority over foreign supply chains.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that Mr. Dorgan’s amendment would save the federal government $19.4 billion over the next decade, because federal programs would spend less on medications.

'U.S. consumers are charged the highest prices in the world for drugs that sell for a fraction of the price in most other countries,' Mr. Dorgan said. “My amendment includes strong safeguards to prohibit drug counterfeiting and other practices that would put the consumer at risk. It applies only to F.D.A.-approved prescription drugs produced in F.D.A.-approved plants from countries with comparable safety standards.”

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