With Obamacare repeal dead for the foreseeable future, Congress may turn its attention to smaller pieces of legislation dealing with what are seen as more doable reforms to American healthcare. One of those is an effort being led by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) to bring down the price of prescription drugs by allowing Americans to buy those drugs from foreign countries.
In early January, Alaska senior Senator Lisa Murkowski, along with 11 fellow Republicans, supported a budget amendment sponsored by Sanders to allow for legal importation of foreign drugs into the U.S. without going through the FDA approval process.
The amendment failed, but Sanders didn’t give up. He has since offered new legislation to accomplish the same goal.
While it may seem like any bill offered by the far-left Sanders would be doomed in the new GOP-controlled Congress, the fact that his effort has attracted support from a dozen Republican senators means the bill has a path to passage. And if it did pass both the House and Senate, the bill would then move to the desk of President Trump, who openly supported drug importation as a candidate.
With that reality now a real possibility, and Murkowski showing no sign of backing off her support for Sanders’ bill, policy experts and conservative grassroots organizations are beginning to vocally express concern over the idea.
On March 17, four recently departed FDA commissioners — two were Obama appointees and two were Bush appointees — jointly wrote an open letter to Congress warning of the perils of allowing unregulated pharmaceuticals into the country, saying:
“Importation proposals seek to make lower-cost but genuine, safe and effective drugs available to U.S. consumers, however this is not such a straightforward task. In fact, we believe that such importation represents a complex and risky approach—one that the evidence shows will not achieve the aim, and that is likely to harm patients and consumers and compromise the carefully constructed system that guards the safety of our nation’s medical products.”
“global experience confirms that illicit, ineffective, or adulterated products are readily available on the open market and represent one of the most lucrative avenues for organized crime.”
Then yesterday, a group of 17 conservative policy groups — including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform — banded together to send their own joint letter to Congress opposing importation, saying:
“Importation schemes are NOT the solution to lower prices and will NOT result in a more efficient healthcare system.
“Instead, implementing an importation policy is simply adopting market-distorting price controls from other countries, which would disrupt U.S. innovation of life- saving and life-preserving medicines. Over the long-term this will result in substantially higher costs to the healthcare system, because there will be fewer research dollars to reinvest, thousands of jobs will be lost, and fewer lifesaving treatments will be available that will keep people out of the hospital and enable them to lead productive lives.”
And earlier this month the group Partnership for Safe Medicines launched this ad specifically targeting Sen. Murkowski:
As The Midnight Sun pointed out in February, this issue hits home here in Alaska. In 2012, the FDA discovered counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs in the United States’ drug supply and has since warned five clinics in Alaska to stop buying black market drugs from unlicensed foreign distributors.
Now, with the bill facing growing opposition from Obama- and Bush-appointed policy people and conservatives, the question is will Sen. Lisa Murkowski continue to support Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue?