Roll Call: Senate Easily Passes Drug Re-Importation

On June 20, by a vote of 62-28, the Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Prescription Drug and Medicare Improvement Act (S.1) offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D.-N.D.). The amendment legalizes the re-importation of prescription drugs.

The amendment was designed to try to put downward pressure on prescription drug prices in the United States, where the costs of prescription drugs are highest in the world. In other words, licensed pharmacists and distributors in the United States would have access to FDA-approved drugs from licensed pharmacists and distributors in Canada-where the government imposes price controls on drugs.

Republicans were essentially split on the issue, while almost all Democrats voted in favor of the Dorgan amendment.

Dorgan brought up the point that prescription drugs costing $10 on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Canadian border can cost as little as $1 on the Canadian side.

“That should not happen,” he said. “It is the same pill put in the same bottle by the same company. We ought to have fair pricing for Americans.”

Sen. Tim Johnson (D.-S.D.) echoed his colleague’s sentiments.

“This amendment finally says to the drug companies, enough is enough,” Johnson said. “I think if we work together, we [can] get a handle on the unrestrained costs of drugs in this country.”

These Democrats praised re-importation as a “free market” solution, but they failed to realize that the reason the price is lower in Canada is because of price-controls. These price controls go a long way to explain why no new drugs are developed in Canada. The Canadian government threatens to simply steal the patents of companies that refuse to sell under their socialist price control regime.

“So if you want free trade, great,” offered conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Penn.) to the pair of farm-state liberals. “We will have [Canada] set the price for all the agricultural products up there and send them back here and call that free trade.” This would, of course, force down prices on wheat and corn, bankrupting many residents of the Dakotas and other Midwestern farm states.

Although they liked the theory behind the amendment because it lowers drug prices, several senators expressed disdain because the agreement could likely result in counterfeiting and transshipment for other countries.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa) supported the amendment, saying that the Dorgan amendment would further enhance the safety precautions included in S. 1.

“The amendment now gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to certify that re-importation would be safe and would save the hard-earned money of U.S. consumers,” he said.

However, he never explained how this process would happen.

On the other hand, some staunch conservatives argue that, without re-importation, Americans are subsidizing socialist price controls in other countries. As it is, Americans currently pay for drug research and development for the entire industrialized world through higher prices, since high prices cannot be charged in Canada and other countries. These conservatives maintain that re-importation will force countries like Canada to loosen price controls, ultimately letting the free market bring down drug prices without any government expenditures.

A “yes” vote was one in favor of the Dorgan amendment to allow re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada. A “no” vote was a vote to deny re-importation and keep counterfeit drugs to a minimum.

FOR THE AMENDMENT: 62 AGAINST THE AMENDMENT: 28
REPUBLICANS FOR (19):
Allard
Brownback
Burns
Chafee
Collins
Craig
Crapo
Dole
Ensign
Fitzgerald
Grassley
Gregg
McCain
Sessions
Smith
Snowe
Specter
Talent
Warner

DEMOCRATS FOR (42):
Akaka
Baucus
Bingaman
Boxer
Byrd
Cantwell
Carper
Chambliss
Clinton
Coleman
Conrad
Corzine
Daschle
Dayton
Dodd
Dorgan
Durbin
Feingold
Feinstein
Graham (Fla.)
Harkin
Johnson
Kennedy
Kohl
Landrieu
Lautenberg
Levin
Lieberman
Lincoln
Mikulski
Miller
Murray
Nelson (Fla.)
Nelson (Neb.)
Pryor
Reed (R.I.)
Reid (Nev.)
Rockefeller
Sarbanes
Schumer
Stabenow
Wyden

INDEPENDENT FOR (1):
Jeffords

REPUBLICANS AGAINST (25):
Alexander
Allen
Bond
Bunning
Cochran
Cornyn
DeWine
Domenici
Enzi
Frist
Graham (S.C.)
Hatch
Hutchison
Inhofe
Kyl
Lott
McConnell
Murkowski
Nickles
Roberts
Santorum
Shelby
Stevens
Sununu
Thomas

DEMOCRATS AGAINST (3):
Bayh
Breaux
Hollings

NOT VOTING: 10

REPUBLICANS (5): DEMOCRATS (5):
Bennett
Campbell
Hagel
Lugar
Voinovich
Biden
Edwards
Inouye
Kerry
Leahy


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