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Making Appropriations for Science, the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies for Fiscal Year 2006--Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Mrs. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to thank Senators Shelby and Mikulski and their staff for their aid in including an amendment that my colleague, Senator Vitter, and I offered. I also am pleased that Senators Dorgan, McCain, Durbin, Levin, Schumer, Feingold, Kohl, and Snowe co-sponsored this amendment.

Our amendment simply matches a provision in the House's appropriation bill that prohibits the US Trade Representative from inserting anti-drug-importation language into free trade agreements. Our provision will remove a huge obstacle to creating a meaningful drug importation plan.

One of yesterday's headlines was that the cost of health insurance for working Americans climbed 9.2 percent this year, far outpacing both general inflation and workers' pay increases, according to a nationwide survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

On average, health insurance for a family cost $10,880 this year, with the employer paying $8,167 and the worker $2,713, the survey found. The total cost almost exactly matches the total annual earnings of a person working full time at the minimum wage, the survey noted.

One of the key drivers of health care is the cost of prescription drugs. Rising drug costs place a huge financial burden on all Americans: from our senior citizens on fixed incomes, to working families without insurance, to small businesses with high health plan costs, to hospitals struggling to stay afloat, to states grappling with Medicaid drug costs. In April of this year, AARP reported last week that wholesale prescription drug costs rose an average of 7.1 percent last year. There is no way that our health system, our citizens, our government, and our taxpayers can continue to endure these increases year after year.

And these rising costs have an enormous health consequence for us, too. Prescription drugs are not like other products. They can do wonderful and amazing things but only if you can afford them. We might be able to make do and not buy a new pair of shoes, but we cannot off our medicine.

Because my home State borders Canada, I know what a difference reimportation has on people's lives. For years, I have joined my fellow Michiganians on their bus trips to Canada for medicine. What I discovered on my bus trips was almost unbelievable. Across Michigan's three bridges to Canada, my constituents have been able to buy safe, FDA-approved drugs at a fraction of the cost. For example, the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor is about 40 percent less; ulcer medication Prevacid is 50 percent less; and anti-depression medication Zyprexa is 70 percent less.

Today, the majority of Americans recognize that drug importation is a fair trade issue. They know that drug makers already bring drugs manufactured in other nations back into the U.S. And FDA inspectors go all over the world to inspect manufacturing lines that will produce drugs that ultimately will be brought into the U.S. I think many Americans would be surprised to learn that their drugs might be made in China, India, or Slovakia. In fact, one quarter of all drugs consumed by Americans were made in other nations and brought into the U.S.

But unfortunately for the millions of Americans who are struggling to afford their medication, PhRMA also has recognized that drug importation is a trade issue. According to its lobbying disclosures, PhRMA has actually lobbied the U.S. Trade Representative, our government's top international trade official, more than it lobbied the FDA, which directly oversees the industry's products. The Center for Public Integrity reported that PhRMA has contacted USTR more than any other lobbying organization.

That lobbying has paid off. Provisions in three different Free Trade Agreements with Singapore, Australia, and Morocco have created new patent rights for prescription drugs that would make it a violation to import drugs from those nations. Although none of the drug importation bills pending before the Senate propose importing drugs from all of those nations, these provisions are setting a dangerous precedent.

USTR has testified before Congress that new legislation on drug importation ``could give rise to an inconsistency between U.S. law and a commitment under this trade agreement.''

Worse, we are also hurting the ability of citizens in other nations to produce generic drugs. CAFTA contains language that will dramatically limit millions of patients' access to these low-cost, high-quality alternatives. In many Central American nations, brand-name drugs cost 22 times more than their generic equivalents.

This has already caused unrest. For example, HIV/AIDS patients in Guatemala have demonstrated against changes in their nation's generic-drug manufacturing laws as a result of CAFTA. Does this make any sense when we are trying to push for more resources to fight global AIDS?

Senators Vitter, McCain, and I introduced a bill in July that would prohibit such unfair language as well as make sure that consumer voices--our voices--are heard in free trade negotiations regarding pharmaceutical issues. This bill has been endorsed by numerous groups including Consumers Union and the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health.

The amendment accepted yesterday merely says that USTR should not adopt language creating obstacles to drug importation. The Stabenow-Vitter amendment is a fair compromise. We need to have an open discussion about drug importation--it shouldn't be decided for us as a provision in an unamendable trade agreement.

This amendment is not an attack on intellectual property or enforcing trade agreements. I am very concerned about enforcing our patents and ensuring other nations respect our companies' intellectual property. In fact, I am a cosponsor of Senators Specter and Leahy's legislation on intellectual property.

Nothing in this amendment would preclude USTR from negotiating strongly-worded trade agreements that would protect and preserve our nation's patents and intellectual property. But surely USTR can negotiate and fight for language that isn't a back-handed way of blocking drug importation.

We know that, if given the chance, we can pass a good drug importation bill with bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. The bill that I have co-sponsored with Senators Dorgan, Snowe, McCain, and others would reduce total drug spending in the U.S. by about $50 billion over the 2006-through-2015 period.

But if USTR continues to insert provisions against importation into our trade agreements--agreements that are supposed to help American consumers--then our hard work will be for nothing.

The drug makers have a complete monopoly on those prescription drugs. No one else--doctors, pharmacists, patients, and employers--has the same opportunity to purchase those FDA-approved drugs at low prices. Again, only the drug makers can bring in these safe, FDA-approved drugs. We need to change this policy.

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