The Senate is unlikely to pass a version of a bill that cleared the House on Friday that would allow the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from industrialized nations, including anti-HIV and anticancer drugs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The bill passed 243-186 in the House, but congressional sources say the measure faces a "solid bipartisan wall" in the Senate that will likely lead to its defeat. Fifty-three senators last week released a letter in opposition to the bill, and several others have said they oppose the measure. Even if the bill were to pass, it will likely include language allowing Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson to authorize the program, which Bush administration officials strongly oppose. The House bill does not include language requiring HHS approval of any imported medications.
The bill, part of a larger Medicare-Medicaid reform package, would allow U.S. consumers and drug stores to purchase brand name medications from Canada and other industrialized nations, where the drugs can cost as little as half the price charged for the same medications in the United States. The Washington Post reports that several U.S. pharmacy chains say they will import cheaper drugs to sell to their customers if the measure passes. Todd Andrews, a CVS spokesman, said, "If a program were put into place that gave us the opportunity to purchase high-quality medications at substantial savings for ourselves and our customers, then we would certainly take advantage of that program, whether it's overseas or domestic." Joe Smith, president of the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents about 25,000 independent pharmacies, said that the organization also would likely take advantage of a drug importation program.
The Bush administration and the pharmaceutical industry strongly oppose any drug importation program, claiming any such system could expose U.S. consumers to drugs that are unsafe or ineffective.