Kaiser Poll Show Support for Personal Imporatation

Kaiser Poll Show Support for Personal Imporatation

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Questions arise about motives of Senator Vitter regarding stance on prohibiting seizures of imported medicines

The motives of Senator David Vitter (R-LA), one of the traditional supporters of importation of prescription medicines from outside the U.S., have come into question because of the Senator’s response to a question from a participant in a Town Hall meeting and the lack of response to inquiries made to the Senator’s office about reports of stepped-up activity of seizures of vital medicines from legitimate, registered pharmacies in Tier One countries—medicines intended for individual purchase by U.S. citizens.

That this should occur involving the Louisiana Senator is somewhat of a surprise, since he has been a supporter of importation legislation, even introducing his own version of bills in past sessions of Congress.

Also, he has a record of supporting the rights of individual purchases of safe, affordable prescription medicines, and was a leader along with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in passing legislation forbidding the seizure of prescription medicines in 2007. We worked closely with the staff on board at that time to support the legislation. He was known as being friendly to issues involving not only individual access to imported medicines but those affecting the elderly as well, serving on the Senate Select Committee on Aging. And, to add to his credentials, he was successful in pushing through Senate approval of legislation to prohibit funding being used to seize prescription medicines in the next budget year.

An admirable record, indeed. So what is the problem?

With his answer to a constituent’s question at a Town Hall meeting in which the questioner suggested that by supporting such legislation to prohibit seizures, the Senator was actually saying that because of lower-priced medicines being available from Canadian pharmacies (an issue we’ll discuss shortly because it does not reflect the realities of the current situation involving sourcing for legitimate Internet-based and mail order pharmacies), the Senator was actually commending the Canadian Healthcare System.

Senator Vitter’s replay was disingenuous, to say the least. Instead of reaffirming his support of the rights of individuals to make such purchases, he retreated to pandering to his audience, saying that his real goal was to force prices in Canada to increase, so that the pharmaceutical industry could lower prices in this country. He actually went so far as to suggest that his legislation could cause the collapse of the pricing methodology not only in Canada, but to create a worldwide collapse of pricing structures of other countries, and that they would be forced to increase their prices and the drug companies would show a charitable side to the American public, which has been besieged by predatory pricing of the pharmaceutical industry for decades

Oh yeah, and I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.

Perhaps the reason the Senator believes that even though he pushed his bill through the Senate that the real reason that it would not be in any final bill coming out of the Senate-House conference was that his colleagues know that his real motive is not to lower drug prices in this country by ensuring the right of access for individual purchases and increasing the options available, but is merely an unworkable attempt to walk on both sides of this issue.

This is disappointing because several years ago, we worked with previous staff in the Senator’s office, and enjoyed such an amiable relationship that we were invited to participate in a Senate Aging Committee hearing that the Senator was planning in New Orleans. Unfortunately, a series of events forced the cancellation of the planned hearing.

Still, because of the Senator's record as a supporter of personal importation of safe, affordable medicines, we extended an invitation to current staff to respond to questions about the seizure ban legislation and related issues. The staff has declined to respond, creating additional questions about the Senator’s commitment to importation, and even of his commitment to presenting his views to America’s seniors. This is especially disheartening in light of his position on the Senate Select Committee on Aging.

Perhaps it is just as well. The Senator’s anti-seizure bill is unlikely to gain any traction and will not be a part of any Conference Committee agreement. This is unfortunate, especially in light of questions about what PhRMA received in return for its decision to cut prices for seniors in the Doughnut Hole. Did it ‘negotiate’ that there would be no price negotiation for Part D? Did it receive an understanding that there would be increased seizures of individual, personal orders of prescription medicines from outside the U.S.?

A final note: Earlier, we mentioned that the Senator’s bill to halt funding for seizures of medicines is flawed. In that regard, it shares with the Dorgan-Snowe bill for importation of personal medicines a fatal fault because the language of both reflects reliance upon importation of prescription medicines from Canada as well as not comprehending how the landscape for importation has changed over the years.

The problems

(a) Where at one time there were more than 140 mail-order or internet pharmacies in Canada, today the membership of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association is 31 pharmacies;

(b) The primary souring for the medicines dispensed by these is not Canada, but from licensed, registered pharmacies in other countries with which the Canadian pharmacies have established relationships and oversight that complements the standards of the country in which the pharmacies are located. The Senator’s bill limits the seizure ban to medicines from Canada;

(c) Finally, the Senator’s response to the question from the Town Hall meeting raises serious questions about his commitment to the role of importation as a part of a strategy to lower prescription medicine prices in this country. Canada has made it clear that it will not become America’s drugstore and will take whatever steps are necessary to protect its citizens and keep prices low.

(d) His belief that his stance will destroy not only the Canadian Health Care pricing structure but that of the rest of the world by forcing other countries to raise their drug prices, and that pharma will respond by lowering prices in the U.S. because it is able to charge more in other countries would be laughable were it not yet another example of the inability of many of our elected officials to understand the role that personal importation of prescription medicines could play in reducing prices and healthcare reform.

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