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Senate Rejects Drug Importation Amendment, Protects the Secret PhRMA Deal

December 16, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate last night voted down an amendment that would have allowed American to buy FDA-approved prescription drugs from overseas, where prices are usually much lower. If it had passed and been added to the Senate health care bill, it has been estimated to save consumers $80 billion on drugs over the next ten years and the government $19 billion over the same period.

Why would the Senate vote down such an amendment? Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent explains:

The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), has been a week-long thorn in the side to Democratic leaders — not because they opposed the provision, but because it threatened to undermine a deal cut earlier in the year between the White House and the nation’s pharmaceutical companies. Under that agreement, the drug makers pledged up to $80 billion toward health-care reform over the next decade if Democratic leaders would withhold their support for several proposals that would cut further into the companies’ profits, including the drug re-importation provision. As a result, White House officials in recent days had urged Democrats to oppose the Dorgan-Snowe amendment, with the FDA writing a letter to senators warning that the agency “does not have clear authority over foreign supply chains.”

The amendment required 60 “ayes” to be approved. It was rejected by a vote of 51-48. Unlike most other health care votes, this one was not split nicely among party lines.

(Pie chart visualizations of the vote forthcoming on those pages.)

An alternative drug importation amendment from Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D, NJ] which added language requiring the U.S. government to certify the safety of all imported drugs, was also defeated.

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