As noted over at NRO’s On The News, the Senate has been busy today debating an amendment sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., S.D.) and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) that would enable pharmaceutical drugs to be imported from other countries. (I love this WSJ.com headline: “Dorgan and McCain: Live in Concert! One Day Only!”) This isn’t a new issue, but the debate raises a question: Did Big Pharma get punked? During the summer, PhRMA, the group of lobbyists representing pharmaceutical companies, ponied up $80 billion to support Obamacare and protect against future cuts. Seems like Dorgan and others forgot about that backroom deal.
How does PhRMA feel about being tied to whipping post? To find out, we asked Ken Johnson, the group’s senior vice president. “To Senator Dorgan’s credit, he’s been consistent,” says Johnson. “He’s supported importation for a long time. He thinks it will save money. We don’t.”
“The problem if this passes is that the politicians will go home and tell voters that they’re saving them money,” says Johnson. “We understand that this is a popular political sound bite. President Obama has favored it in the past. Unfortunately, if you really study it in depth, it’s much more complicated of an issue than it appears to be on the surface.”
Johnson notes that the White House, via Margaret Hamburg, President Obama’s Food and Drug Administration commissioner, does not approve of the Dorgan-McCain amendment. “They’re not the first FDA to say that,” says Johnson. “They said the same thing under Bush, Clinton, and now Obama: implementing this would be one real tough nut to crack.”
Why? Keeping imported drugs safe and efficacious is a “problem that’s getting worse,” says Johnson. “Counterfeiters are more sophisticated. They see an opportunity to make a lot of money very quickly. They don’t care who they kill. You have to be very careful of what you wish for.”
Indeed. As does PhRMA. Play ball with Obama and you still might have to swallow a bitter pill.