Senators At Odds About Drug Importation Amendment
The New York Times: "Debating an overhaul of the health care system, the Senate found itself tied in knots on Thursday over a bipartisan proposal to allow people to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and certain other countries." The vote was delayed, in part, because Democratic leaders "feared that the proposal would be approved, potentially blowing apart a deal negotiated by the White House and the pharmaceutical industry." The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America strongly opposes allowing imports because, they say, "the government could not guarantee the safety of imported medicines." The Times quotes amendment sponsor Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) as saying: "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." Meanwhile, 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" (Pear, 12/10).
Fox News reports on the "holding pattern" the feud regarding the amendment has triggered: "Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., as well as at least one other Democrat, according to Dorgan, have put the brakes on any action on the amendment. It's up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to settle the dispute in order to move forward on health care reform. Dorgan, incensed by the block, told reporters he is prepared to hold up any action on health care reform over the matter" (Turner, 12/10).
The Los Angeles Times: "The drug-import amendment was not part of that negotiation [and deal between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry], but it was widely believed that the industry would oppose the bill if such an amendment were included. Around the time of the negotiations, the White House issued a statement saying that importation legislation would not be necessary if a healthcare overhaul were enacted, because the overhaul would result in generally lower costs." The Bush administration also cited safety concerns when it opposed importation (Hook and Hamburger, 12/11).
Marketwatch: "Backers say allowing drugs to be imported will boost competition and put downward pressure on prices. Dorgan says only FDA-approved drugs would be allowed for import." Dorgan says that it will save consumers $100 billion in lower prescription drug prices (Schroeder, 12/10).
The Washington Times reports that Republicans blocked a vote on the amendment, saying they had just seen the 100-page proposal. "Republicans accused Democrats of working at the White House's behest to block a vote on Mr. Dorgan's amendment, which has bipartisan support, until they were sure they had the votes to defeat it" (Haberkorn, 12/11).
CongressDaily reports that in addition to PhRMA's concerns, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association wrote to Reid "asserting reimportation would undercut their profits and allow unsafe drugs into the country" (Edney, 12/11).
Bloomberg reports on the comments of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a cosponsor of the amendment. "'If it passes, as it should, and allows drugs to be imported into this country, it breaks the agreement that the White House made,' McCain said yesterday. The main Washington industry group, (PhRMA) has 'been over here lobbying furiously,' he said" (Jensen and Litvan, 12/11).
The Hill: But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "There's a political subtext here. ... Many of us support it but wonder if this is the right venue. ... We don't want to slow down this bill or stop it over what is an important issue but, I think, takes second place to the overall healthcare reform" (Young, 12/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.