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Analysis

Sen. Chuck Grassley Backs Drug Importation Bill

By Jack O'Brien  
   January 21, 2019

The legislation, which would allow American consumers to purchase prescription drugs approved by Canadian pharmacies, is challenging the longstanding Senate GOP position on drug importation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is throwing his weight behind a bipartisan bill that would provide Americans access to prescription drugs approved by pharmacies in Canada.

Along with cosponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Grassley is seeking to expand options for American consumers as Congress and the Trump administration continue to examine policies aimed at lowering drug prices.

"For decades, safe and affordable prescription drugs have been for sale just across the border, but legally out of reach for American families," Grassley said in a press release. "It’s long past time for Congress to help the millions of Americans who struggle to pay exorbitant prices for medication. Our bill would do exactly that. In the meantime, I’ll keep up the fight against high prescription drug prices through increased competition and expanded access to more affordable generics."

Despite receiving the backing of the sitting Senate Finance chairman, who has been a longtime advocate for exploring drug importation at the federal level, the legislation faces a steep challenge in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Many members have historically been opposed to legislation allowing American consumers access to foreign-approved prescription drugs due to concerns over public health, even unsuccessfully attempting to remove supportive language from an opioid bill last fall. 

Related: Buried in Congress' Opioid Bill is Protection For Personal Drug Imports

Drug importation remains a controversial proposal not only among Senate Republicans, but HHS Secretary Alex Azar as well. 

Azar dismissed the idea in a speech last May, stating that Canada's drug market is too small for such a policy to substantively lower prescription drug prices while citing a 2004 Congressional Budget Office report.

Related: Drug Importation 'Just a Gimmick,' Says HHS Secretary

Despite the lack of federal embrace for prescription drug importation, Vermont became the first state to legalize the wholesale importation of prescription drugs from Canada mere days after Azar's speech.

The policy has not gone into immediate effect as the state was required to produce a design plan by the end of the year and submit a formal request for certification of the program to HHS by July.

Related: Vermont Legislature OKs Drug Importation From Canada

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: Former U.S. Senator and actor of Law & Order, Fred Thompson shaking hands with Miss Pork and U.S. Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley at Iowa State Fair, August 17, 2007, Des Moines, Iowa - Image / Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com


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