Congress May Ignore Administration Calls to Change Drug Reimportation Bill
Republicans and drug industry advocates have indicated that the 107th Congress will be "unlikely" to heed Clinton administration recommendations that they alter the prescription drug reimportation bill passed by Congress in October and rejected by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala last week, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. A controversy over the issue could help keep prescription drug costs "the focus" of health care reform discussions (Fulton, CongressDaily/A.M., 1/3). Under the bill, pharmacists and wholesalers would be able to import from abroad pharmaceuticals that meet U.S. safety standards (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 11/15). The bill required HHS approval before resale could begin (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/2). Shalala maintains that the reimportation measure, passed as part of the FY 2001 Agriculture appropriations bill, contains loopholes that would allow drug companies to refuse to provide proper labels to importers and could permit drug companies to raise prices and write contracts to prevent importers from getting business. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) last year introduced a provision that would have imposed limits on the types of contracts pharmaceutical companies could write, but that suggestion "sparked an outcry" from drug firms. Furthermore, Shalala said that the bill would expire in five years, which would make importers and others "reluctant" to make financial commitments to reimportation.
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John Rector, general counsel for the National Community Pharmacists Association, said, "Obviously, Shalala didn't give [the measure] a fair hearing." Rector also said that the law "would give HHS broad discretion" to ensure that drug companies did not "take advantage" of the agency's position. Furthermore, Rector said that the measure's implementation would not cause great health and safety risks and could save money. Despite Shalala's reservations, a spokesperson for Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair James Jeffords (R-Vt.) said that the chair would "encourage [President-elect Bush's] administration to implement the law." An outgoing Clinton administration official said, however, that the new HHS would be "unlikely" to address the issue because of the current controversy, and instead would focus its efforts on a Medicare prescription drug benefit. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that the Bush administration is expected to address such a benefit next fall, while congressional members are expected introduce legislation to that end "as early as possible" (CongressDaily/A.M., 1/3).