Moments before the Senate rejected a drug reimportation measure for the umpteenth time, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Thursday accused the drug industry of exerting its influence at the expense of low-income Americans.
“In a normal world this would probably require a voice vote. But what we’re about to see is the incredible influence of the special interests, particularly PhRMA,” McCain said. “What you’re about to see is the reason for the cynicism that the American people have about the way we do business here in Washington. PhRMA, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, will exert its influence again at the expense of low-income Americans who will again have to choose between medication and eating.”He was referring to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the behemoth drug lobby that neither party likes to cross, and which has successfully quashed similar legislation on many occasions.
The measure by McCain and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) would have allowed the importation of cheaper medicines from Canada, likely saving the U.S. billions of dollars on health care spending. It failed 43-54, with bipartisan support and opposition, as an amendment to a sweeping FDA drug review bill that’s viewed as must-pass.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who opposed the bill, contested McCain’s premise.
“It is not the special interests that has caused the Senate countless times to reject this policy,” Menendez said on the floor. He argued that the amendment “puts Americans at risk, undermines the FDA’s authority, has a devastating ripple effect throughout the country’s drug supply by allowing foreign pharmaceuticals into the country.”
“This is about the health and security of the American people,” he said.
Health care experts contend that the policy can save money while minimizing risks. In the summer of 2009, PhRMA successfully persuaded the White House to exclude drug reimportation from the Affordable Care Act as part of a deal in exchange for its support.