WASHINGTON – A powerful Senate Republican wants to allow Americans to get their prescriptions filled in Canada and elsewhere, part of a growing movement in Congress to address soaring drug costs.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (search), introduced legislation Thursday that would immediately remove barriers to bringing in drugs from Canada, where prices are lower by a third or more on many brand-name drugs.
The bill would eventually allow prescriptions to be filled in more than two dozen countries in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Foreign exporters would have to register with the Food and Drug Administration (search) as part of a program to ensure safety - the chief concern of those opposed to drug imports.
"If lower cost pharmaceuticals are made available to Americans, drug companies will be forced to re-think their pricing strategy and won't be able to gouge consumers in the United States," Grassley said.
His bill is one of several proposals in Congress designed to overcome objections by the Bush administration - shared by the Clinton White House before it - to legalizing prescription drug imports.
A bipartisan group that includes Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is drafting legislation that also would give the FDA additional authority to regulate imported drugs (search).
FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard said Thursday he was reviewing Grassley's bill, but said it raised several concerns - mainly that it would permit importation of drugs that are equivalent to those approved by the FDA.
"It's broader than the bills previously introduced in that they were limited to FDA-approved drugs," Hubbard said.
Drug company executives on Monday told a government panel exploring the issue that importing drugs from abroad could be unsafe and lead to a rise in counterfeit drugs. They also complained that drug imports would lower incentives to market less costly generic drugs.
Grassley's legislation would punish drug companies that try to hinder imports by limiting the quantities of drugs sold in Canada and elsewhere. Those companies would lose their tax deduction for their advertising costs, he said.
However, companies that do not take steps to interfere with imports would get a 20 percent increase in the tax credit they are allowed for their research and development costs.