Down to the Wire

The House is expected to vote late tonight on a controversial proposal to allow Americans to import prescription drugs without FDA safety oversight.

President Bush has weighed in, calling the initiative ?dangerous? because it ?would create serious drug safety problems?allowing counterfeit, adulterated, inactive, and unapproved drugs to enter the country? that could injure public health and threaten the security of the nation’s drug supply.

FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan sent a strongly worded letter to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Billy Tauzin. McClellan said the bill would erode the FDA’s ability to oversee the nation’s drug supply and requiring pharmaceutical companies to institute anti-counterfeiting measures would RAISE drug costs by $2 billion.

The Congressional Budget Office chimed in as well, saying that drug importation would not reduce drug costs to American consumers.

Many conservatives have argued that allowing Americans to buy drugs more cheaply abroad is free trade. But it’s hardly free trade when you are importing price controls from countries with socialized health care systems that impose global budgets and ration medical care — including prescription medicines.

Then they argue that drug companies should just refuse to sell their products to countries that don’t agree to a fair price that includes a share of the R&D costs.

House Judiciary Committee member Chris Cannon (R-UT) says that is seldom an option. ?The patent laws of almost every country in the world allow the government to confiscate or ‘compulsory license’ a company’s patent if it is not ‘worked’ locally,? he wrote in a Dear Colleague letter. That means if a drug company doesn’t agree to the prices that a government demands, the country will essentially steal the patent. What kind of a choice is this for companies whose most valuable asset is their intellectual property rights?

When Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) lobbies for his bill, he circulates a chart comparing the prices of 16 drugs in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Not surprisingly, every one is cheaper elsewhere — because other countries don’t pay their fair share of R&D.

One enterprising researcher has produced another chart showing where those drugs were developed: 11 in the United States, 5 in Europe, and a big 0 in Canada. So where will the new drugs come from if the U.S. slaps price controls on its drug supply, either directly or indirectly by allowing Americans to import price controlled drugs?

Finally, Roll Call wrote a short article about the Wednesday Group meeting last week in which they write, ?Rep. Gil Gutknecht got savaged as he tried to pitch his drug reimportation bill to skeptical conservatives. He faced a flurry of attacks from fellow Republicans at the rowdy session.?

The article goes on to report that, ?The sparring continued in the hallway when Gutknecht left the room, with one source saying that Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute was ‘literally screaming’ at the Congressman. ‘It was a very, very energetic conversation,’ Turner told HOH [Heard on the Hill] , stressing that she was not yelling. ‘I think he was sorry he came into that room.’?

I don’t scream at anyone, but we did have a heated discussion.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) may be allowed to present a substitute amendment that would allow imports initially only from Canada, not all 26 countries allowed in the Gutknecht bill. But Emerson proposes a dangerous provision that would tell drug companies that they must sell their products to American consumers at the lowest price they offer anywhere in the world. This could be the most stringent form of price controls yet.

The leadership believes tonight’s vote will be very, very close. This is high stakes poker. Let’s hope that the grown-ups prevail.

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