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Daily Newscasts

Cheaper Drugs from Canada? U.S. Senate Votes Today

May 7, 2007

An important vote is expected today in the U.S. Senate in the latest round in the battle for cheaper prescription drug prices, and it's getting confusing. Senators have two amendments to vote on: one, known as the "Dorgan-Snowe Amendment," would allow drugs to be imported from other countries, starting with Canada. The other would amend, and in effect, gut Dorgan-Snowe. Lauren Moughan of AARP Washington says this dual vote means a senator could appear to be in favor of less expensive drugs, but make it unlikely they'd ever be imported.

“It's very confusing, and it's very tricky and clever by the pharmaceutical industry. This is a really dirty tactic on their part to try and confuse American voters and give their political allies cover.”

Lawmakers who oppose importing prescription drugs say they're worried about safety. They support the "Cochran Amendment," which requires the Health and Human Services Secretary to ensure importation would pose no risk to the public and would result in a significant reduction in drug costs, which are requirements many feel would kill any chance of imports actually happening.

Moughan believes the dual vote gives senators an easy way to maintain the status quo and bypass potential criticism from voters.

“If a senator votes to amend Dorgan-Snowe and then votes for Dorgan-Snowe, they are simply trying to trick the voters into thinking that they support importation when they don't.”

Moughan notes that Americans pay higher prices than any other nation for the same medications.

Both votes today are amendments to the "Prescription Drug User Fee Act." The Dorgan-Snowe Amendment has bipartisan sponsors, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The Cochran Amendment is sponsored by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi).

Chris Thomas/Eric Mack, Public News Service - WA