Canadian health officials are drafting a proposal to prevent Internet pharmacies from selling mail-order prescription drugs to U.S. consumers, a spokesman said Wednesday, a move that would essentially kill a $700 million industry that has become increasingly popular with underinsured patients in search of cheaper medicine. The issue has become politically touchy for President Bush, whose administration has argued that reimporting U.S.-made drugs from Canada would put consumers at risk because U.S. regulators could not guarantee their safety. The pharmaceutical industry, which donated heavily to Bush's reelection campaign, vehemently opposes reimporting drugs, a practice that undercuts their U.S. sales.
Representatives of both the U.S. and Canadian governments say Bush discussed the issue with Canadian prime minister Paul Martin when he visited last fall. That has sparked accusations that Bush pressured Martin to change Canadian policy--an accusation the White House denies.
As part of its socialized medical system, the Canadian government sets drug prices that are substantially lower than those charged in the United States. But the savings from Canadian drugs purchased over the Internet are eroding. For example, savings on 100 pills of 20 milligrams of Lipitor fell to 31% at the end of last year from 44% in the first quarter of 2003. The average Canadian price rose 26% to $201.01, while the American price was essentially flat at $290.34.
The three-pronged measure being considered by Canadian health minister Ujjal Dosanjh would prevent Canadian doctors from co-signing prescriptions for U.S. patients without examining them in person, spokesman Ken Polk said by telephone from India. It also would prohibit prescriptions for foreigners who are not present in Canada and create a list banning the export of certain drugs that are widely used by Canadians, Polk said. A proposal was expected to be presented to Martin's cabinet by the end of the month, Polk said, although Asian tsunami aid efforts were diverting government resources and it was not clear how much time would be required for approval. (AP)