Tuesday, 22 December 2009 14:10
The U. S. Senate rejected an amendment to the healthcare reform bill that would have permitted Americans to buy U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved prescription drugs from other countries. The measure, which got only 51 of the 60 votes needed to pass, was opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. Some feared if passed, it would derail efforts to pass healthcare reform legislation.
North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan, chief sponsor of the amendment, said it would have put downward pressure on healthcare costs and saved taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars by providing immediate relief from the world’s highest prescription drug prices. Ultimately, he said, it would force the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices in the United States.
“The pharmaceutical industry's drug pricing is unfair to U.S. consumers,” Dorgan said. “We are charged the highest prices in the world for drugs that the same industry sells for a fraction of the price in most other countries. That is unfair and it needs to stop. American consumers ought to have the same opportunity to purchase FDA-approved prescription drugs from other countries where the prices are far lower.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Dorgan’s legislation would have saved the federal government an estimated $19.4 billion over the next ten years. In addition, Dorgan estimates that American consumers would have saved about $100 billion over the next decade thanks to the lower prescription drug prices that would have result from the legislation.
The defeat came days after FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg sent a letter to the Senate in which she said the amendment would be challenging to implement and resource intensive for her agency. She also warned there would be significant safety concerns.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America struck a deal with the White House earlier this year in which it reportedly agreed to work to achieve $80 billion in savings on prescription drugs over ten years and support healthcare reform legislation in exchange for avoiding price controls.
“We continue to support comprehensive healthcare reform so that millions of uninsured Americans can access high-quality and affordable health care coverage and services,” said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the trade group PhRMA. “We believe that if health reform is done in a smart way, prescription drug importation is not necessary because most Americans will finally have health insurance and access to safe and secure prescription medicines.”
A total of 30 Democrats and the independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted against the amendment.
In a speech delivered on the floor of the Senate, Dorgan called arguments against his amendment based on concerns about the safety of imported drugs “absolute rubbish” and noted that the pharmaceutical industry gets 40 percent of the active ingredient for its drugs from India and China.
“I know the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of clout,” Dorgan said. “I hope the American people have the ability to expect some clout on their behalf here in the chamber of the United States Senate.”