The pharma industry has plugged a hole in the reimportation dike. A federal judge in Maine struck down a state law that allows residents to buy prescription drugs from pharmacies outside the country. The law was the state's version of a federal proposal that has failed several times in Congress.
Drugmakers lobbied hard against the Maine Pharmacy Act, not because of its potential effects in Maine--which would be small--but because the idea might have spread to other states as a way to control healthcare costs. Allowing foreign drugs to be sold in the U.S.--at the generally lower prices charged in other countries--could seriously undermine pharma's U.S. pricing power.
Troy Jackson, a former state senator who introduced the Maine Pharmacy Act, wasn't happy about the ruling. "The pharmaceutical industry wins these things 10 out of 10 times, so I'm not surprised," Jackson told the Portland Press Herald.
The law's opponents argued that federal legislation supersedes state rules when it comes to importing products--not to mention regulating drugs, authority for which belongs to the FDA. U.S District Judge Nancy Torreson agreed, tossing the Maine provision aside because it's pre-empted by federal law.
If allowed to stand, the law would interfere with "the tightly regulated structure set by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act," Torreson wrote in her ruling. Congress has shown a "clear intent" to "tightly control prescription drug importation," the judge said.
That could change, however, if U.S. senators succeed in their latest attempt to win approval for nationwide drug reimportation. As The Wall Street Journal notes, the fact that Maine's law was struck down could give more fuel to the federal bill, backed by senators John McCain, a Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat.
"There is bipartisan support for our bill to allow all Americans to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and this ruling only underscores the importance of passing it into law," Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement.
McCain has introduced similar bills in previous sessions of Congress, but all those proposals failed. Reimportation was also a big issue during negotiations over the Affordable Care Act. Pharma fought hard to fend off suggestions that reimportation be included in that legislation.
PhRMA, the industry association, was among those leading the charge against the Maine law, and the group is fighting the federal bill, too. John Murphy, the association's general counsel, called the ruling a "victory for patients" because it backs the FDA's authority over drugs.