Heinrich backs bill allowing prescription drug importation to U.S.

By:  Michael Coleman

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, who was criticized by some fellow Democrats last month for opposing a measure that would make it easier to buy inexpensive prescription drugs from Canada, on Tuesday backed a new drug importation bill, saying it addresses his concerns about safety.

The bill announced at a press conference Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol is sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont.

The bill would authorize the secretary of Health and Human Services in two years to allow importation from other advanced countries.

The bill would also give the FDA authority to shut down “bad actors” who are proven to be fraudulent or unscrupulous. Many Americans, frustrated by skyrocketing drug prices, hope to legally buy drugs from Canada, where prices are often half the price – or less – than drugs available from U.S. pharmacies.

Heinrich was among 13 Democratic senators who cast a vote last month against paving the way to lower prescription drug prices in the U.S. by importing drugs from Canada. That measure, also sponsored by Sanders of Vermont, failed narrowly.

But on Tuesday, Heinrich said the new bill contains safeguards the previous legislation did not.

Consumers “should not have to choose between safety and being able to access the critical lifesaving pharmaceutical drugs that they need to maintain their health care,” Heinrich said at the press conference.

“Details matter and I think this legislation gets the details right,” he added. “It preserves the sort of system that has given us the safest pharmaceutical supply in the world while at the same time using a pre-market, market-based approach to driving down those costs.”

The bill has 19 Senate co-sponsors, but none are Republicans – at least not yet. Sanders told reporters he expects Republicans to co-sponsor the bill eventually, as their constituents call on them to support it. Twelve Republican senators voted in favor of the drug importation amendment that failed narrowly last month.

However, the legislation will face stiff opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which contends that foreign drugs would taint the U.S. medicine supply.

“Do we expect the pharmaceutical industry will spend an enormous sum of money to oppose this? Of course we do,” Sanders said Tuesday.

President Donald Trump championed prescription drug reform on the campaign trail last year, but he has not pushed for any specific legislation early in his first term.

“We need to find pragmatic realistic ways to drive down pharmaceutical costs with free-market mechanisms and that’s what this legislation does,” Heinrich said. “I am more optimistic than I have ever been that we’re going to get something done on this. This is far overdue. Our constituents are clamoring for this.”