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Re-importing US Drugs from Foreign Countries a Good Idea, Says Obama’s Healthcare Reform Team

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Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has introduced the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act, S.525, and twenty-four other senators have already become co-signers. A similar House bill has also been introduced. Both bills allow for the re-importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. American drug manufacturers sell medicines to foreign countries for much lower prices than they charge Americans, usually setting up manufacturing facilities in those countries. Re-importing the same drugs that American manufacturers have produced for other countries is still less expensive than buying them at current US prices.

The fact that so many senators are already on board is a hopeful sign that the bills will pass this year, either as stand-alone laws or as a part of broader healthcare reform legislation. The Senate bill is identical to the one Sen. Dorgan offered as an amendment to the FDA Modernization legislation in 2007, which sadly lost—but by only two votes.
President Obama’s 2010 budget includes a general proposal statement on healthcare reform, noting specifically that the administration has a “strong interest in implementing this [re-importation] policy.”
Of course, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) oppose the legislation because of what they call “safety concerns.” In a statement, a senior vice president at PhRMA said, “The worldwide counterfeit threat is knocking at America’s door and will soon be greeted if prescription drug importation moves forward.”
These are, of course, the very same drugs that we exported to other countries—the same FDA-approved drugs, manufactured at FDA-inspected foreign facilities, operated by big drug companies in foreign countries. FDA inspection does not guarantee end-use consumer safety of drugs manufactured and sold in the US, so drugs manufactured outside of the United States are at the same level of FDA safety risk.

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