Policy-ish

Support For Drug Imports Stalls Health Overhaul

The latest stumbling block for an overhaul of health care lies north of the border.

Dollar sign made of pills.
iStockphoto.com

The Senate, already poking along, put the whole thing on hold yesterday amid growing support for a measure that would allow American pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import cheaper versions of drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

For years many Americans in northern states have headed to Canada for cheaper medicines. Then Internet purveyors, many shady, offered cut-rate prices on brand-name drugs supposedly from Canada or other countries with quality standards on par with those of the FDA.

Early in the week, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a letter to senators that the idea was "logistically challenging" to implement and raised safety concerns, mainly over counterfeits.

Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, chief sponsor of the importation amendment, called the FDA's complaints "completely bogus." He's been a booster of the approach for years.

But the administration and some Senate Democrats are hanging tough in an apparent nod to drugmakers' interests. "People are walking on eggshells," Dorgan said yesterday, according to the New York Times. "If we pass legislation allowing people freedom to import drugs, the pharmaceutical industry might not support the health care bill."

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