Bush Administration Unveils Drug Reimport Study

February 26, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - As required under the recent Medicare reform law, the Bush Administration is kicking off a year-long study of how a safe program could be put together to reimport less expensive prescription drugs from Canada.

The Administration’s study launch – complete with fanfare – was designed to deflect a growing chorus of criticism about the government’s unrelenting opposition to the drug reimportation idea even though some form of reimportation is being at least discused by a long list of local and state governments scrambling to save taxpayer dollars on health care, the Associated Press reported.

However, the study announcement drew immediate attacks because of the Administration’s decision to install Mark McClellan, the commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to lead the study.

The controversy threatens to delay Senate confirmation of McClellan for a new position as administrator of the Medicare program because of McClellan’s oft-stated opposition to reimportation. In his FDA role, McClellan has argued that such imports would be unsafe, and his agency has threatened legal action against cities and states that help people import Canadian drugs.

Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said the panel studying the matter would be a “balanced commission,” would hold hearings and would take testimony from governors and members of Congress on both sides of the issue.

But Senator Byron Dorgan, (D-North Dakota), said he was astounded that the administration would put McClellan in charge of the study. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chicken house,” Dorgan said, according to the Associated Press. “Dr. McClellan has clearly made up his mind not to allow importation and has done everything in his power to stop it.”

Also Thursday, with encouragement from Illinois’ governor, an elderly suburban Chicago couple filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the US government to try to force it to allow the Canadian reimportation.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Washington, contends that the 2003 Medicare legislation has provisions that are unconstitutional and that prevent Ray and Gaylee Andrews from purchasing drugs at lower prices in Canada. The Andrews, both 74, said they spend about $800 a month on medicine. The couple filed the suit with encouragement fromGovernor Rod Blagojevich who also helped them locate a lawyer, according to news reports.

Attorneys said the lawsuit represents the first legal challenge of the legislation. It seeks class-action status.