Jeffords optimistic re-importation bill will pass

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(Host) Senator James Jeffords says he’s optimistic that legislation allowing consumers to re-import prescription drugs from Canada will be approved by the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks. Jeffords says the plan has attracted a lot of Republican support in the last month.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) According to Senator Jeffords, there’s been a significant shift in the Senate surrounding this issue. Re-importation efforts have been strongly backed by many Democrats and those Republicans who represent states that border on Canada but now other members of the GOP caucus are expressing their support for the plan including Mississippi Senator Trent Lott and Arizona Senator John McCain.

Jeffords thinks a number of senators are angry that many drugs can be purchased in Canada for a fraction of the cost that’s charged in this country.

(Jeffords) “The more the people understand it, the more they understand that this is a question of the pharmaceuticals making more money and the administration getting more contributions. And that’s putting it a little more ugly than it ought to be, but that’s the way that it really comes down to.”

(Kinzel) Because the Bush administration opposes the bill, Jeffords is concerned that the president would veto a stand alone re-importation bill. So Jeffords says the strategy is to put the proposal on a major budget bill.

(Jeffords) “The only way we’ll get it done is by putting it on something that the president’s got to sign. And if we get enough people lined up on both sides of the aisle such that we can get the votes and give it to the White House and then they have to say yes or no. If they say veto it, why then the political price I think they will find will make it disadvantageous.”

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders, who helped pass a re-importation bill in the U.S. House last year, testified recently in the Senate Commerce Committee about the legislation. Sanders is encouraged by the reaction that the bill is getting.

(Sanders) “And the very good news is that now senator McCain who’s chairman of the commerce committee over there has been actively involved and very supportive of what I and others are trying to do. So with McCain on board, with people like Trent Lott on board, with Ted Kennedy basically reversing his position, I am absolutely confident that we now have the votes in the Senate to pass a good re-importation bill.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says the federal Food and Drug Administration may be reconsidering its opposition to the re-importation bill. In the past, the FDA strongly opposed the legislation because of safety concerns surrounding drugs that are brought into this country from Canada. But now the FDA says there may be ways to deal with these concerns.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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