2002-07-24 / Seniors


Senate OKs Import Of Less Costly Drugs; Bush Administration Says
By John Toscano


Senate OKs Import Of Less Costly Drugs; Bush Administration Says’ No’

The battle in Congress between Democrats and Republicans rages on.

Last Wednesday, the United States Senate passed a bipartisan bill 69 to 30 to permit licensed pharmacists and drug wholesalers in the U.S. to import prescription drugs from Canada, if the federal Food and Drug Administration approves the medicines.

Prescription drug prices in Canada are lower than in the U.S. in general, so it would give U.S. consumers some relief from the high prices they are forced to pay—the highest in the world, according to a recent study released by Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/ Manhattan) and Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/ Brooklyn).

The drug import bill also has good support in the House, so it could be enacted into law.

However, the administration of President George W. Bush is against the measure on the grounds that unsafe or counterfeit drugs could be shipped here, according to FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford, who stated the administration’s position in a letter to Senate officials the same day the bill was passed.

In 2000, a similar bill which allowed imports from 26 countries, not only Canada, also was passed, but the FDA refused to allow the imports on the same grounds it cited last week. At that time, President Bill Clinton was in office.

SPARRING OVER MEDICARE Rx COVERAGE CONTINUES: Also, last week there was no movement on any bills to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare because neither the Democrats, who hold a slim majority, nor the Republicans have enough votes to pass rival bills.

But there was debate on a bill sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York), which is also aimed at getting more lower-cost drugs into the marketplace. This only generated more heat without movement toward passage.

Schumer’s approach is to expand consumer access to generic drugs, which cost less than name brand drugs and have the same medical benefits as the name brands.

Republican opposition to Schumer’s bill kept it from full debate, however. Schumer’s bill would limit major drug companies’ opportunities to delay the approval of generic drugs, which they presently exercise very effectively by tying up approval of generic in the courts for years at a time.

Democrats have a bill similar to Schumer’s in the House, where it is part of their major legislation to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare.

‘THE SAY NO TO DRUG ADS ACT’: The major drug manufacturing companies presently are permitted to take a tax deduction for television ads for prescription drugs, which in 2000 cost $2.5 billion to broadcast, according to Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/ Bronx). Crowley didn’t say how much of a deduction the pharmaceutical manufacturers receive or how much it costs taxpayers as a subsidy, but at 5 percent, for example, the deduction would amount to $125 million.

Crowley and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler (D–Manhattan) have filed legislation, "The Say No to Drug Ads Act" to eliminate the deduction. "Why should Americans help pay for the slick ad campaigns of multi-billion-dollar drug companies—the same companies that, in turn, charge American seniors nearly twice what they charge Canadian seniors for identical medications?" Crowley asked. "This is corporate welfare at its worst!" Crowley and Nadler charge the ads are deceiving, don’t explain risks, and pressure consumers to pressure their doctors to prescribe the drugs. "By artificially increasing the demand for their drugs, the pharmaceutical companies are able to keep prices high, gouging our constituents," they said.

SUMMER COMPUTER CLASSES: Selfhelp Community Services, which operates four senior centers in Queens, is sponsoring computer classes this summer for seniors at basic, intermediate and advanced levels.

The classes are being held at Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center, 45-25 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, (718) 886-5777; Austin Street Senior Center, 106-06 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, (718) 520-8197; Maspeth Senior Center, 69-61 Grand Ave., (718) 429-3636, and Clearview Senior Center, 208-11 26th Ave. Bayside (718) 224-7888.

For more information, call Cynthia Coyne at (718) 429-3636.

Computer training classes have been scheduled for the fall at the Middle Village Adult Center, 69-10 75th St., Middle Village. These are beginners’ classes and are scheduled for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and from 11:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., from September 10 to October 16, October 22 to November 27, and December 3 to January 22, 2003. For information on reserving space, call (718) 894-3441.

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