More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Key U.S. Senator Wants Canada Drug Reimport Plan

Wednesday September 5 5:26 PM ET
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key US Senate Democrat said Wednesday he will introduce legislation to let Americans obtain lower priced prescription drugs from Canada now that the US government refuses to implement a broader law passed last year.

Declaring that Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anyone in the world, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) lambasted the Republican administration of President George W. Bush (news - web sites) and his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, for frustrating congressional efforts to fix the situation.

At a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, Dorgan waved bottles of medicine he said cost twice as much in the United States as in Canada and said Americans now had to drive to Canada if they wanted to take advantage of the price differential.

The Medicine Equity and Drug Safety Act passed last year would have addressed the problem by allowing US pharmacists and drug wholesalers to reimport US-approved drugs from other countries and sell them at a discount, he said.

But both the Clinton and Bush administrations refused to implement the law, citing safety concerns. Supporters of the reimportation plan suspect both administrations backed down under pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.

Banning the reimportation of drugs was a "sweetheart deal" for drug makers, but a "raw deal" for consumers, said Dorgan, chairman of the subcommittee on consumer affairs. "I don't want to compromise the safety of our drug supply, but neither do I want our consumers handcuffed.

"I think it's likely we'll reintroduce the same legislation and pass it, dealing just with Canada," he said, adding that just as cross-border agreements had been made on items like meat, any drug safety problems could be addressed.

Dorgan said the long-term goal was not to promote cheaper medicine from Canada, but to force the US drug companies to lower drug prices, "so Americans are not paying the highest prices for prescription drugs of any country in the world."

William Hubbard, a senior associate commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) (FDA), said the Bush administration believes reimporting drugs from other countries, even Canada, is risky because the FDA does not have oversight there.

"I just don't think we could provide the same assurances for any drug imported from Canada," he told Dorgan.

The pharmaceutical industry countered that instead of devising reimportation schemes, Congress should enact a prescription drug benefit for elderly citizens.

Canada's drug price controls make it difficult for Canadians to get innovative medicines, argued Majorie Powell of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

"We should learn from Canada's mistakes--not import them," she told the subcommittee.

Sens. James Jeffords (news - web sites) (I-VT) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said they backed a reimportation scheme. Dorgan's aides thought the idea enjoyed a majority in Congress, but in July the Republican-led House rejected a farther-reaching version of what Dorgan is proposing now.

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