Opening a new front in the war against big pharma, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and a slew of Democratic colleagues introduced a bill Tuesday to allow commercial importation of drugs from Canada.

The appeal is obvious; through cheap imported drugs, the U.S. would be able to take advantage of the government levers and regulation that other countries have used to bring down pharmaceutical prices. It’s a far more politically palatable way to attack the problem of soaring drug prices than opening up an even more contentious fight over whether the U.S. government should meddle directly in pricing – and it has had wide popular and bipartisan support, including from Hillary Clinton and President Trump during the presidential campaign.

A drug importation amendment was previously advanced during the budget resolution vote in the Senate in January. It was rejected, with 13 Democrats voting against the measure. Four of those who voted against the amendment signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

In a press conference unveiling the bill, Democratic and independent lawmakers threw down the gauntlet, calling on Trump – who has repeatedly said that he will do something to reign in rising drug prices – to support their effort.

“I want to finally say about our president, who has said a lot of talk about health care, and has recently confessed how ‘complicated’ he thinks it is. He has made promises to the American people about prescription drug prices; he has made promises to the American people, and now it’s time for him to put up or shut up,” said Sen. Cory Booker , D-N.J., who joined as a co-sponsor after earlier voting against drug importation when it was an amendment. “It’s time for him to join with us, or, in my opinion, to confess his lies to the American people.”

The bill was immediately criticized by pharmaceutical industry’s trade group, arguing that the policy could cause patient harm if bogus or unsafe drugs make it into the market.


“The bill lacks sufficient safety controls, would exacerbate threats to public health from counterfeit, adulterated or diverted medicines, and increase the burden on law enforcement to prevent unregulated medicines and other dangerous products from harming consumers,” said Nicole Longo, a spokeswoman for PhRMA, the trade group for the drug industry.

Partnership for Safe Medicines, a coalition that includes PhRMA and many public health groups, said in a letter that the proposal would “undermine nearly two decades of drug safety and policy.”

But supporters of the law argue that the specter of patient harm is a boogeyman.

The bill has safety protections embedded in it, some of which were what convinced Democrats who voted against a previous importation proposal to sign on in support.

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