Congress Poised to Pass Bill Threatening Americans’ Access to Affordable Drugs

Congress is poised to pass a bill that would threaten Americans’ ability to import prescription drugs. The FDA reauthorization bill (S. 3187/H.R. 5651) includes a provision that would allow imported prescription drugs with a value of less than $2,500 to be destroyed.

The language in the bill endangers Americans’ ability to access affordable prescription drugs. Millions of Americans depend on importing safe prescription drugs from licensed Canadian and other online pharmacies abroad in order to afford medication. Without affordable medication, American consumers are forced to resort to dangerous practices such as pill-splitting, skipping doses, and not filling prescriptions. This pending bill would allow officials, authorized by the heads of the Health and Human Services Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, to seize and destroy safe prescription drugs valued under $2,500, without allowing the opportunity for the drugs to be exported. The bill would endanger public health by barring access to affordable, lifesaving drugs.

President Obama has failed to live up to his campaign promises to support personal importation of drugs from Canada and elsewhere. Under extreme pressure from lobbyists, he was forced to compromise with the big pharmaceutical industry during negotiations over the health care reform bill. He obtained the industry’s support for the bill by promising not to push for allowing importation of prescription medications for personal use. Personal prescription drug importation takes some of the pressure off of Americans who are struggling to afford the rising costs of their prescription drugs.

And now Americans’ ability to access affordable medication is again under fire with the FDA reauthorization bill. Big Pharma, in the form of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, unsurprisingly supports the bill. PhRMA president and chief executive John Castellani issued a statement saying that he “applauds” the bill and “thanks Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and other stakeholders who have participated in the months and years of work to negotiate and pass this important legislation.” The only stakeholders who seem to have been left out of this process are American consumers.

The House version of the bill, The Food and Drug Administration Reform Act of 2012 (H.R. 5651) was introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) May 9. The Senate version, The Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (S. 3187) was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) May 15.

The bills passed in the Senate with a vote of 96 to 1 on May 24 and in the House by a vote of 387 to 5 on May 30.

The bills have been consolidated into a single final version, but there was no opportunity for public comment before the bill was finalized. The bills were in conference, but Congress has not released the names of the lawmakers, lobbyists, or members of the Administration involved in merging the two bills.