COL Gutknecht winning battle against high drug costs

Reimportation bill gains support in U.S. House

Rep. Gil Gutknecht's stubborn persistence in supporting a drug reimportation bill is tying the pharmaceutical industry into knots.

Gutknecht, Minnesota's First District Republican, is co-sponsor of a measure that would allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries where prices are far below those in the United States. While the bill has not been endorsed by Republican leaders in Congress, it is reported to be gaining strength in the House, even among conservative members.

According to the Gutknecht bill, allowing reimportation of prescription drugs could reduce the cost of drugs in the United States by 35 percent and save $635 million over 10 years. Average drug prices in the United States were 67 percent higher than those in Canada in 2002 and approximately twice as high as those in France and Italy, according to a New York Times report.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has launched an all-out lobbying campaign in an effort to defeat the bill. Industry experts indicate that, if it passed, the measure could upset the worldwide pricing system for prescription drugs because U.S. consumers pay a disproportionate share of the industry's costs.


A new element in the controversy was introduced when conservative religious leaders such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell said the reimportation bill could make it easier for women to obtain the anti-abortion pill RU-486. Gutknecht, a longtime opponent of abortion, replied that the pill would be available only from doctors and its distribution would be regulated by other means. He accused Falwell of "extreme paranoia."

Drug industry ads have charged that reimportation would expose American consumers to tainted or unreliable products. Gutknecht and others have argued that there have been few if any problems resulting from drugs obtained by mail or in person from Canada or other countries.

Gutknecht's efforts have made him a target for the conservative Wall Street Journal. In an editorial on Monday, the newspaper said Gutknecht's bill was an effort to "import foreign price controls" and will threaten innovation by pharmaceutical companies.



; The conflict makes one point clear: American consumers pay most of the cost of research and development -- as well as advertising -- for the nation's pharmaceutical companies. That is the case because Canada and leading European drug companies follow the simple practice of imposing reasonable controls on drug prices. The companies say they could not otherwise pay the cost of research and development of new products. However, it is clear that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in the United States and can afford to spend $27 million a year for political contributions alone.

A similar drug reimportation bill has passed on two previous occasions, but it contained a provision that neutralized its effects. That provision stated the U.S. secretary of health and human services must certify that the measure posed "no additional risk to consumers." That certification never was issued, so the bills were nullified. The Gutknecht bill does not contain a similar provision. However, a different bill on Medicare prescription-drug benefits does have such a provision and also limits importation of drugs from Canada.

Gutknecht has shown courage in seeking to lower drug costs for consumers, even opposing his party leaders on the issue and fighting off the misguided charge relating to RU-486. If he succeeds, he would save millions of dollars for people who pay heavily for their prescription drugs.


That will not solve the whole problem, but it will demonstrate that the pharmaceutical industry has reaped billions of dollars in profits by pursuing a callous and insensitive policy toward its American customers.

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