(Senate - September 08, 2004)

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[Pages S8932-S8933]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                         REIMPORTATION OF DRUGS

  Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I rise to discuss the issue of the 
reimportation of prescription drugs. I do that because we have a very 
short time remaining in this Congress. We actually began last evening 
with a couple of votes. I read this morning that the majority leader 
would like to finish by October 8. There are very few days in which to 
advance some of these issues. The issue of reimportation of 
prescription drugs is a very important issue.
  We pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Many 
of my constituents who live in North Dakota go across the line and 
purchase identical prescription drugs, FDA-approved prescription drugs 
from Canada, the same pill put in the same bottle made by the same 
company sold in Canada and the U.S. The difference is price. One 
example is Lipitor, a very popular cholesterol-lowering drug. If you 
buy Lipitor in Canada, it is $1.01 per tablet. If you buy it 5 miles 
south of the Canadian border, it is $1.82 per tablet, nearly double the 
price for the American consumer. That is the case with drug after drug, 
when you compare.
  A group of us--Senator McCain, myself, and many others--has been 
working on reimportation legislation that would allow more than just 
personal use reimportation to come across from Canada, and I have 
talked to Senator Frist at great length about this issue.
  On March 11 of this year, about midnight, when we were in session 
that evening dealing with the budget, Senator Frist and I reached 
agreement. He put in the Record that he would announce that in 
consultation with the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, 
Education, Labor, and Pensions, along with Senator Dorgan, Senator 
Stabenow, Senator McCain, Senator Cochran, and others, that the Senate 
would begin a process for developing proposals that would allow for the 
safe reimportation of FDA-approved prescription drugs. Now we face the 
time period when, nearing the end of the session, we have not yet had 
that vote. There is a bill at the desk that was passed by the House of 
Representatives. That is one possibility. The other would be bipartisan 
legislation Senators McCain, Stabenow, others, and I

[[Page S8933]]

have introduced. Still other opportunities might be an amendment to 
another bill.

  The reason I take the floor at this moment is in this morning's 
Congressional Quarterly, it says:

       It appears increasingly unlikely that the Senate will vote 
     this year on legislation that would allow Americans to import 
     prescription drugs from abroad, despite wide public support 
     for the idea.
       An aide to [Senate] Majority Leader Bill Frist . . . said 
     Tuesday that consensus on permitting the practice remained 
     elusive and that the issue could get swamped by more pressing 
     issues leading up to Election Day.

  That was from the majority leader's aide.
  Senator Grassley was quoted as saying that Senator Frist, the 
majority leader, ``is intentionally keeping drug reimportation off the 
Senate floor because it would pass by a wide margin.'' That is a direct 
quote from Senator Grassley.
  I have spoken at great length with Senator Frist about this issue. I 
know others have different views and they have their own interests. But 
I believe there has been a commitment for us to at least try to have 
votes on reimportation. Some of us feel very strongly about it. It is 
not partisan because we have Republicans and Democrats who have joined 
on a bipartisan piece of legislation.
  It is my hope that in the coming days we will find a way either to 
take the bill that is at the Senate desk, which is a bipartisan House-
passed bill allowing for the reimportation of prescription drugs, or 
alternatively to have an opportunity to vote on the bipartisan 
legislation we have developed here in the Senate.
  I have said many times, my own view is that the pharmaceutical 
industry is a big industry. They do a lot of good. They produce 
lifesaving medicines. But miracle medicines offer no miracles to those 
who can't afford them. It is unfair that we pay the highest prices in 
the world for prescription drugs.
  I believe one way to begin putting downward pressure on prices is to 
let the market system work. The market system would do for our country 
just as it does in Europe where they have something called parallel 
trading. Parallel trading means that for approved prescription drugs, 
if you are in Germany and want to buy a prescription drug from Spain, 
that is not a problem, you can do that. If you are in France and want 
to buy a prescription drug from Italy, that is not a problem. The 
parallel trading plan works in Europe, works for the safety of the 
European consumer.
  Why should the American consumer not be able to purchase or why 
shouldn't pharmacists from our country not be able to purchase an FDA-
approved drug from a licensed pharmacist in Canada? That is the 
absurdity of all this. A pharmacist from Grand Forks, ND, cannot go to 
that one-room pharmacy in Emerson, Canada, a licensed pharmacy in 
Emerson, and purchase that Lipitor at a savings and pass the savings 
along to the American consumer.

  We want to change the law to allow that to happen so that pharmacists 
and licensed distributors can access FDA-approved drugs that are sold 
in every other country in the world at a lower price and bring them 
back and allow the savings to be passed along to the American consumer. 
Ultimately, what it will mean is a repricing of those drugs in our 
country. The market system will force a repricing and a lowering of 
prescription drugs prices. That is the goal, and that is what the 
result would be if the market system is allowed to work.
  Again, we are only talking about FDA-approved drugs. We are not 
talking about anything other than FDA-approved drugs that were produced 
in FDA-inspected plants, sold by a licensed distributor and pharmacist 
in Canada and/or the United States.
  That is the issue. I came to the Senate floor only because I saw the 
statement this morning by Senator Frist's staff suggesting that maybe 
this won't get done. Again, I refer the majority leader to March 11, 
the statement in the Congressional Record in which the majority leader 
said: The Senate will begin a process for developing proposals that 
would allow for the safe reimportation of FDA-approved drugs, not 
``maybe'' but that would allow for the reimportation. The fact is, I 
feel there is a commitment here, and my hope is that commitment will be 
kept in the coming couple of weeks as we work to finish our work in 
this Congress.
  We have a lot to do. There is a lot of politics running around this 
Chamber. My hope is that on big issues and important issues, we can 
decide we want to do the right thing and engage on issues that are 
important to this country and important to the American people.
  I yield the floor.