The House passed legislation Thursday effectively permitting the importation of lower-cost drugs from places such as Canada, Australia and Europe, the Associated Press reports. The move came as lawmakers passed a $91 billion spending measure funding farm subsidies and nutrition programs for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
The bill, passed by a 237-18 vote, faces a promised veto from President Bush over its price tag, and the administration also opposes the drug importation provision. The White House "strongly opposes" the drug provision, which would effectively permit individuals, wholesalers and pharmacists to import lower cost U.S.-made and FDA-approved drugs from Canada and elsewhere
The White House and its allies say there's no system in place to protect consumers from counterfeit or unsafe drugs, but an administration policy statement stops short of an outright veto threat. "I understand the intention to lower drug prices to the seniors, that is critically important," says Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. "What we're doing is throwing open the gates to every (drug) counterfeiter in the world."
Supporters say it would save consumers great sums by allowing them to purchase U.S.-made meds from other countries where they often sell for much lower prices than in the U.S. Under current law, consumers are permitted to buy a 90-day supply in Canada.
Overseas, drugs can cost two-thirds less than they do in the US, where prices for brand-name drugs are among the highest in the world. In many industrialized countries, prices are lower because they are either controlled or partially controlled by government regulation. "I would prefer to stand up for my constituents in Missouri as opposed to the pharmaceutical companies keeping competition and low prices out of this country," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.
Similar drug importation language has passed the House in recent years but has been forced out by GOP leaders and the White House during House-Senate negotiations. A move supported by drugmakers to strike the importation provisions from the bill was defeated 283-146.