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Drug reimportation bill could hit snag


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just days after Republican leaders endorsed a measure allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs to the United States, a key supporter said Thursday the GOP is trying to water down the bill to please the pharmaceutical industry.

The bill would allow drug distributors to import U.S.-made drugs from other countries where they are sold cheaper. Supporters say it would help lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Republican leaders have re-drafted a compromise negotiated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers with the White House.

The new version would end the program after three years, forbid the re-importation of drugs purchased by national governments, end re-importation if there is a single instance of counterfeit drugs coming into the United States, and restrict the countries from which the drugs could be re-imported.

The bill excludes Latin America and Mexico. In many countries, the national government runs the health care system and purchases drugs from U.S. companies in bulk.

Rep. Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, called the draft "an outrage."

"There are some very serious problems with this proposal. The changes make it far weaker than the original proposal and it will be a real impediment to allowing us to draw down the cost of prescription drugs," he said.

White House officials said they are reviewing the draft but made it clear the changes would not be acceptable to them. Republican Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, the principal author of the proposal, said he is also reviewing the draft. But Jeffords said he would be "concerned" about any changes that undermined the goal of reducing drug prices.

House GOP leadership aides said the changes were only intended to improve public safety. They said the list of countries was limited to those already approved by the FDA for re-importation done by the drug companies themselves. They said the Secretary of Health and Human Services would have the authority to suspend re-importation if there is a pattern of counterfeiting until the problem is resolved. They said they intended to work with the sponsors to develop a compromise.

The draft was circulated on Capitol Hill the day after a major Republican Party fundraiser at the National Building Museum that was co-chaired by Peter Dolan, the president of Bristol Myers Squibb. Drug companies donated $800,000 to the Republican Party Committees last month.

The original compromise would allow wholesalers and pharmaceutical companies to re-import U.S.-manufactured drugs to the United States and sell them at a discount. Drugs in some other countries cost only a fraction of the cost in the United States because of price controls and bulk buying.

In more than 10 states, Democratic candidates have organized bus trips to take consumers over the border into Canada to fill prescriptions for U.S. name brand drugs.

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