Los Angeles Times
October 14, 2004
At last week's debate, President Bush was asked why he had blocked imports of
inexpensive drugs from Canada. "I haven't yet," he responded, adding, "It may
very well be here in December you hear me say I think there's a safe way" to
import drugs. In the 2000 campaign, Bush was even more unequivocal. Drug
importation, he said, "makes sense."
First, "I haven't yet" amounts to a bald lie. If his administration does not allow it, he's blocking it. Second, why wait until December to change his policy? And if the idea still "makes sense," why is his administration four years later trying to rub out any organized importation?
The Food and Drug Administration has been sending bullying letters to governors whose states try to establish safe ways of importing drugs from established pharmacies. The most recent such letter, sent to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, called his state's newly launched I-SaveRx program "illegal." If Bush actually believes that, let's see him put Blagojevich in handcuffs and have the governor do the perp walk into federal court.
Bush aides, meanwhile, are leaning on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to block a Senate vote on a bill by Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) that would lift the outrageous restrictions that prevent U.S. consumers from buying drugs from abroad, where prices are controlled and often 40% to 60% lower than in the United States.
Frist and FDA officials say the risks of such reshipping far outweigh the benefits. But it's more than a stretch to argue that the medications Snowe and Dorgan would let U.S. patients purchase — FDA-approved and shipped back to the United States in their original packages — are somehow more dangerous than medications such as vaccines, which frequently are manufactured abroad and shipped straight to U.S. doctors' offices.
Pharmaceutical concerns have long made a second argument against drug re-importation: It would eviscerate the profit margins they need to produce new drugs. But there's no reason why Americans should have to shoulder the burden so disproportionately, especially because drug makers spend more on marketing and lobbying than research and still make record profits.
Because the House passed a similar bill last year by a surprisingly strong 243-186 vote, Senate approval could compel legislators to send the Snowe-Dorgan bill to the president's desk as early as December. Whether Bush wins or loses, that would be an ideal way to find out if he meant what he said.
To Take Action: Call Sen. Frist at (202) 224-3344.