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From the CQ Newsroom: Senate Votes to Allow Drug Imports from Canada

By Elizabeth B. Crowley, CQ Staff

July 11, 2006 -- Debate over the reimportation of prescription drugs erupted during Tuesday's Senate floor debate of the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill, as lawmakers voted to permit drugs to be brought in from Canada for individual use.

The vote was 68–32.

David Vitter, R-La., set off the exchange when he offered an amendment to the spending bill (HR 5441) that would prohibit U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents from seizing FDA-approved drugs brought in from another country for personal use.

Judd Gregg, R-N.H., objected to the proposal, declaring that "the practical effect of this amendment would be the customs and border patrol could not stop any drug at the border."

But Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is running for reelection this year in a state with a large population of senior citizens, said older Americans need to be able to buy cheaper drugs from other countries.

Most seniors have some type of prescription drug coverage—either through the new Medicare Part D program or from a former employer. But under Part D, Medicare coverage is suspended once seniors have spent $2,250 on prescription drugs. Medicare picks up again, paying 95 percent of the cost, only after a senior's annual drug cost has reached $5,100.

Gregg said the amendment could carry national security threats. "If I were a creative terrorist I would say to myself all I gotta do is produce a can that says Lipitor on it," Gregg said, suggesting a terrorist could send anthrax to individuals who had ordered Lipitor.

After heated debate, Vitter modified his amendment so that it would apply only to drugs brought in from Canada.

Gregg said the Vitter's concession improved the amendment, particularly in terms of national security, but he continued to oppose the proposal, though his opposition was less forceful.

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