- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2012

No, Canada.

More than a decade after the first skirmishes over allowing American consumers to buy cheaper prescription drugs from the Great White North, the issue is still a loser — and by wider margins than ever.

The Senate rejected the latest proposal Thursday, even with a number of former supporters switching to vote against it.

Absent from the fight was President Obama, who in the past had supported drug reimportation and even ran on it in 2008, but who did not take a stand this time around.

Those pushing to allow drug importation said the declining support signaled the growing power of the pharmaceutical industry, which is a generous campaign contributor.

“What you’re about to see is the reason for the cynicism that the American people have about the way we do business here in Washington,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the proposal’s sponsor. “One of the most powerful lobbies in Washington will exert its influence once again.”

He was trying to tack the importation language onto a broader bill to speed up the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of new medical products. The FDA bill easily sailed through the chamber later in the day.

Lawmakers have hotly debated legalizing purchase of foreign drugs for years, weighing concerns that the drugs sold in other countries may not be safe against worries that Americans end up paying higher prices for the same drugs than do foreign consumers.

Mr. McCain’s amendment would have directed the Department of Health and Human Services to write rules allowing individuals to buy drugs from approved Canadian pharmacies.

Supporters said it would save money for Americans who routinely pay between 35 percent and 55 percent more for drugs than they would in Europe or Canada, where price controls keep costs down.

But opponents said there’s no knowing where the drugs came from, pointing to looser Canadian regulations on drugs entering that country. Just because HHS certifies a pharmacy doesn’t mean all of its drugs have been properly screened, said Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican.

“I know fourth-graders who in 20 seconds could duplicate any seal you put on the Internet,” Mr. Enzi said. “The problem is not knowing where the drugs really come from that go through Canada to the United States.”

Requiring 60 votes to pass, the measure fell 17 votes shy, losing a 54-43 vote that betrayed no clear partisan or geographic divisions. Even senators from the same state split on the issue, illustrating its murkiness.

Some lawmakers didn’t try to hide the fact that their state is home to many of the drugmakers with high stakes in the debate.

“I’m proud that many of our country’s drugs originate in New Jersey,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat. “It would be wrong to undercut the work of these trained New Jerseyans only to put Americans in danger.”

Story Continues →