House passes drug bill

Plan would allow purchase of imported medications

From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON -- The House approved legislation today that would let Americans buy prescription medicine abroad, voting 243-186 in a clash between hopes for lower prices and fears of counterfeit drugs.

The bill's lead sponsor was Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Republican from Rochester. The vote marked a defeat for the pharmaceutical industry, which spends millions lobbying Congress.

"Mayo does not have an institutional position on the bill, either for or against it. We prioritize the issues each year that we will focus on and get involved in, and this is not one of them... we're focused on the Medicare reform issue right now," said Bruce Kelly, Mayo Clinic director of government relations.


But the Partnership for Safe Medicines, lead by the Seniors Coalition, has said it hopes to defeat the bill. The partnership includes pharmaceutical companies, business groups, and health organizations, including the Healthcare Leadership Council, which includes member Mayo Foundation with former foundation president and CEO Dr. Robert Waller on its board of trustees.

"The country is going to be flooded with unsafe pharmaceutical counterfeits, over-age pharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals that don't preserve and protect the safety of our citizens," said Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.

But Gutknecht, who worked aggressively in the final weeks of debate to line up support, said "For too long, Americans have been held captive. Tonight, the people's House freed the American people from a market that forces them to pay three, four, five, even 10 times as much for the same prescription drugs as our friends in Canada and Europe."

The vote sent the bill to the Senate, and House supporters hope it would be incorporated in a final Medicare compromise. But hopes dimmed even as debate unfolded on the House floor, when 53 senators announced their opposition to any change in the current law which allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to decide whether importation is safe.

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