House to Vote on Prescription Drug Reimportation – Measure One of the More Divisive in Recent Memory

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Thursday on a controversial provision that would lift restrictions on the reimportation of prescription drugs. Debate over the proposal has been extremely divisive and the vote is expected to be close.

Edmund F. Haislmaier, a member of The National Center for Public Policy Research’s board of directors and a health care expert, is available for interviews on drug reimportation and/or Medicare drug bills. Haislmaier has written two papers (“Dying for a Discount: The Dangers in Importing Drugs” and “Really Strange Bedfellows: The Odd Alliance Promoting Drug Re-Importation” for The National Center in recent weeks, available on our website at His paper on how Congress’s Medicare drug provisions would reduce seniors’ existing private coverage was published by the Heritage Foundation on July 17.

Proponents of the reimportation proposal say it would help lower drug costs in the U.S.

Opponents express various concerns. Among them: 1) doubt that reimportation would actually lower U.S. drug costs; 2) concern that drug safety would be compromised by criminals with a profit motive or by terrorists; 3) philosophical opposition to government price controls; 4) fear that funds needed for research would dry up; 5) fear that the proposal would make it more difficult for the FDA to enforce restrictions on certain drugs subject to special controls in the U.S.

The debate has been unusually acrimonious. The legislation’s opponents have been appalled that legislators they perceived to be pro-free market are promoting what is considered to be the importation of foreign countries’ price controls, and many have safety concerns. Congressman Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), a leading proponent of the legislation, says the safety issue is a red herring (“All the safety arguments, if you scratch off the veneer, are ludicrous”), and has accused both the Clinton and Bush Administrations of dishonestly refusing to certify that drug reimportation is safe (“I think in truth they all know this is safe”). Gutknecht also has called the notion that terrorists could strike the U.S. through drug tampering “just lunacy. Nobody believes that.”

Gutknecht has little respect for arguments made by opponents. “They will use scare tactics, but they never use the facts…” Organizations and media outlets that have publicly criticized the reimportation proposal in statements, papers and/or editorials in recent days include, among others: American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Cato Institute, Club for Growth, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Family Research Council, Frontiers of Freedom, Galen Institute, Heritage Foundation, Human Events, Manhattan Institute, National Center for Policy Analysis, National Center for Public Policy Research, National Review, National Taxpayers Union, Small Business Survival Committee, TechCentral Station, Traditional Values Coalition, Washington Times and Weekly Standard.

Congressman Gutknecht says special technology on labels can defeat drug counterfeiting (“we can guarantee safety”); FDA Administrator Mark McClellan, M.D. says the technology is costly and ineffective, in part because illegitimate products can be sold in legitimate containers.

For interviews with Ed Haislmaier, please call David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.