Amendment To Allow Drug Importation Fails In Senate
A bipartisan plan to allow Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from suppliers in other countries, such as Canada, failed Tuesday in the Senate. The Wall Street Journal reports the two top supporters of the plan, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and John McCain, R-Ariz., said shopping overseas via the Internet and mail-order companies could save consumers up to $80 billion over a decade if their amendment were added to the health overhaul legislation. Drug makers had opposed the bill. The Journal reports: "In June, the industry agreed to put up $80 billion over 10 years to support a health overhaul, including steps to improve drug coverage for seniors in Medicare, provided they wouldn't be asked for further contributions to the cost-cutting effort. The deal continued to hold up in the Senate Tuesday as the drug-importation measure opposed by the industry fell short." It failed by a vote of 51-48, nine votes less than the 60 needed to approve the amendment (Mundy, 12/16).
Bloomberg reports, "Proponents said the plan would have allowed pharmacies, wholesalers and consumers to buy medicines made by U.S. companies sold at lower cost in other nations. Drugmakers, who have to contend with foreign health systems that regulate prices, said they need the open market in the U.S. to thrive and warned of safety risks from counterfeiting." After the amendments failed, AARP executive Nancy LeaMond, a supporter of the plan, said, "Tonight, senators had a choice between meaningful savings for their constituents and higher profits for the drug industry" (Gaouette and Jensen, 12/15).
"Other senators backed a separate measure to allow imports that have been certified as safe by U.S. health officials. Also needing 60 votes, the proposal lost, 56-43," Reuters reports. "But allowing cheaper drugs could hurt revenues for the roughly $315 billion pharmaceutical industry, which boasts one of the strongest lobby groups in Washington and is a major backer of [President] Obama's broader drive for healthcare reform" (Heavey, 12/15).
The Senate's Democratic leadership backed the second, more limited amendment, Roll Call reports. Democrats and the White House lobbied to defeat Dorgan's proposal, which may have jeopardized the drug industry's support for reform. "With Republicans attempting to be spoilers by reversing their previous opposition to the proposal, 24 Senate Democrats who supported the bill last year voted to kill the amendment. Sixteen Republicans who had previously voted against the plan voted for it (Pierce and Drucker, 12/15).
"The defeat of the drug importation proposal was a crucial victory for Obama and the pharmaceutical industry," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The politically charged amendment had held up the Senate for a week and threatened to derail the whole healthcare bill" (Hook and Levey, 12/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.