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AARP says it will back drug-import bill

White House has opposed letting in prescriptions from Canada


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a move likely to stoke domestic political flames around President Bush, the nation's largest senior lobby confirmed Tuesday that it will endorse bipartisan legislation to legalize importing cheap prescription drugs.

AARP spokesman Steve Hahn said the group will back the bill sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

"We will aggressively work for passage," said Hahn, saying the legislation the White House staunchly opposes has "good momentum."

AARP is expected to endorse the plan Wednesday at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

The group, representing more than 35 million people age 50 and older, is considered the 800-pound gorilla in the prescription drug debate, and the group's support of the president's Medicare bill last year was seen as pivotal to the legislation's passage.

The bill includes a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. The changes will be phased in gradually until the act takes full effect in 2006.

The White House has consistently said that the changes to Medicare will lower the cost of prescription drugs, making it unnecessary to import drugs from other countries.

The president reiterated that sentiment Monday during a trip to Missouri, a likely battleground state in the November election.

But given recent confusion about the Medicare bill -- including the announcement last week by the Department of Agriculture that poor seniors could lose some of their food stamp benefits if they sign up for a $600 drug credit -- Democratic aides said they want to pounce on a political opportunity to pass the drug legislation.

The legislation would permit importing prescription medicines by "licensed pharmacists and wholesalers" from Canada.

One year after its enactment, the bill also would allow imports from current European Union members, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland.


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