Drug plan suffers setback in Senate (Vermont Public Radio)

Bob Kinzel

Listen to VPR audio here A plan to allow consumers to purchase prescription drugs from Canada has suffered a major setback in the U.S. Senate.The legislation is a long time priority of Senator Bernie Sanders.Sanders says today's vote is an indication of how much clout the pharmaceutical industry has in Congress.VPR's Bob Kinzel reports:(Kinzel) Currently consumers must to travel to Canada if they want to take advantage of lower cost prescription drugs. Individuals are allowed to bring back a 90-day supply of medicine.Senator Sanders wants to expand this program. Under his bill, consumers would be able to purchase their drugs by mail from Canada. The legislation also allows commercial distributors in the United States to obtain drugs from Canada, Japan and the countries of European Union.The cost of many prescription drugs in Canada is much lower than in the United States because Canada imposes price controls on these products.Sanders says it's critical for U.S. consumers to have full access to the Canadian market:(Sanders) "Bottom line is that in America we are paying 25 to 50% more for many many drugs manufactured in the United States - same factories, but sold in Europe and Canada for far lower prices. That is basically absurd. And what this debate is about is not just the need to lower the cost of prescription drugs. It really is whether or not Congress can respond to the needs of ordinary Americans and stand up to the very powerful special interests."(Kinzel) Opponents of the bill argue that flooding the U.S. market with imported drugs raises a host of safety concerns.They successfully amended the bill to give the Bush Administration the authority to block the reimportation of drugs if the Administration cannot guarantee the safety of these medicines.This provision is seen as a serious problem because the Bush Administration has strongly opposed reimportation for many years:(Sanders) "But the idea that many of my Republican friends and some Democrats have no great concerns about food coming in from farms in Mexico, Latin America, food coming in from China - that's not a problem. But somehow we cannot regulate a handful, a handful of drug companies that are bringing their products in from Canada or from Germany doesn't really pass the laugh test. All of this is about is another excuse to enable the drug companies to charge us by far the highest prices in the world for their products."(Kinzel) The measure now goes to the House for its consideration. Sanders is hopeful that members of the House will reject the new Senate amendment and then pass a strong reimportation bill.