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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson April 8, 2010

No new rules for drug imports in health care law

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "allow Americans to buy their medicines from other developed countries if the drugs are safe and prices are lower outside the U.S." But such a provision was not included in the final health care law that passed both chambers of Congress and was signed by the president.

The motivation for the promise came from an existing trend of Americans crossing the Canadian border to buy cheaper prescription drugs. Yet for the most part, it remains illegal for Americans to buy prescription drugs there -- for safety reasons, the Food and Drug Administration says.

But in the wake of negotiations with the prescription drug industry -- one of the first big health industry players to support the White House's health care reform effort -- Obama's drug importation promise faded into the background. Now, with passage, it's officially off the table.

Instead, the drug industry will pay billions of dollars annually in new fees beginning in 2012, and brand-name drugmakers will provide a 50 percent discount on prescriptions filled through the Medicare Part D coverage gap beginning in 2011.

Such concessions will undoubtedly aid American consumers' pocketbooks -- perhaps even more than a new reimportation rule would have, though it's hard to know for sure. But the specific promise Obama made was not kept, so we rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan October 15, 2009

Political deal slows promise on purchasing imported drugs

With drug prices so high in the United States, many people have been crossing the border to buy cheaper prescription drugs in Canada. Yet, for the most part, it remains illegal for Americans to buy prescription drugs there. (The Food and Drug Administration says this is for safety reasons.) During the campaign, Barack Obama said he would work to allow imported prescription drugs. Now, however, Obama's promise is being slowed by a political deal involving his plan for health care reform.

The prescription drug industry was one of the first big players in the health industry to support President Obama's plans for health care reform. Drugmakers agreed to forgo $80 billion over 10 years as part of reform efforts to reduce costs.

As the negotiations in Congress over health care have progressed, though, it appears the White House will not push Obama's campaign promise to allow consumers to buy imported prescription drugs, nor another measure to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.

Billy Tauzin, a former congressman and now president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, has told several reporters that his group has an agreement that the White House would not support new rules to allow consumers to buy imported drugs. Reports from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Huffington Post have outlined the contours of the deal.

The White House has confirmed the $80 billion threshold and suggested that health reform would make the importation of drugs unnecessary .

Some members of Congress have said they do not feel bound by any deal the White House made, so this may not be the end of the story. Still, the Senate Finance Committee recently approved health legislation, and nothing in there allowed consumers to buy imported drugs. Given that committee action and the news reports on the matter, we rate this promise Stalled.

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