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Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Drug industry opposes US law

RECORD AMOUNT Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry lobby, poured money into preventing a law that would allow the US to import drugs

AP , WASHINGTON

The pharmaceutical industry's trade group spent US$8.5 million in lobbying this year as it worked against a bill to allow importation of government-approved drugs.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA) spent the money lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first half of this year, the most the group has ever spent in a reporting period, according to federal reports. Lobbying totals cover expenses such as salaries and mailings but not campaign contributions.

Despite the group's effort, the US House of Representatives passed the importation plan in July as part of legislation to provide prescription drug benefit to people covered by the government Medicare insurance program. The US Senate passed a watered-down version of the importation proposal, and congressional negotiators are trying to reconcile the differences.

The importation bill orders the Health and Human Services Department to set up a system that would allow importation of FDA-approved drugs from FDA-approved facilities in Canada, the EU and seven other nations.

Imported drugs, which often sell for a fraction of the cost of the same drugs in the US, could cost the pharmaceutical industry billions of dollars. The legislation won support in the House because of the savings it could yield consumers.

PRMA, the pharmaceutical trade group representing major companies, argues that the lost revenue would stifle its research into new drug treatments, ultimately hurting patients.

It also warns that people buying imported drugs risk using counterfeit or tampered products, despite a requirement in the importation bill that drugs be shipped in anti-tampering and anti-counterfeiting packaging.

Representative Gil Gutknecht, a Republican who sponsored the House importation plan, said he was not surprised by the trade group's lobbying figures.

"It was the most intense full-court press," he said. "Members who had been here 20 years said they had not seen anything like it."

A PRMA spokesman refused to comment because he said the organization does not discuss its lobbying.

Many of the group's members also spent millions on lobbying in the first half of this year, including Eli Lilly and Co (US$2.9 million), Bristol-Myers Squibb (US$2.6 million), Johnson & Johnson (US$2.2 million), Hoffmann-La Roche (US$2 million) and Pfizer (US$1.8 million).

Overall, the industry has already spent more than US$29 million in lobbying this year, more than any other industry, according to Political Money Line, a nonpartisan Washington Web site. The industry enjoyed about US$150 billion in US sales last year.

"This is an industry under siege," said Ira Loss, a senior health care analyst for the Washington Analysis Corp, a research firm for the financial industry. "The reimportation bill is only one piece of legislation the industry is not happy with."

Loss said drug companies also worry about the prospects of the federal government negotiating drug prices for Medicare recipients in an effort to contain costs.

"I don't think it's a scandal that they spent a lot of money," Loss said. "They make a lot of money, and they're trying to protect their interests."

It is impossible to determine how much PRMA spent on the importation bill. The US$8.5 million covers all lobbying by PRMA, not just lobbying on the importation bill, and the report does not break down how much is spent on any one issue.

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