This vote was on an amendment that would have allowed American consumers to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would extend Food and Drug Administration (FDA) programs. Sen. McCain’s amendment would have established a program that allows an approved set of Canadian pharmacies to sell drugs to Americans. Prescription drug prices are higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and many common drugs can be obtained in Canada for a fraction of the U.S. price.
Supporters of Sen. McCain’s amendment argued that the drug importation program would give Americans a badly needed break on their prescription drug costs. The program would be safe because the drugs could be purchased only from Canadian pharmacies that have been approved by the FDA, they said.
“This amendment doesn't authorize insurance companies, huge pharmacy chains, or drug wholesalers to import massive quantities into the U.S. system. This is about safely allowing uninsured, unemployed, and the underemployed to individually import these drugs they need,” Sen. McCain said. “So, please, somebody explain to me how we tell the struggling family who needs their medications that they cannot use their own money to get the same drug from legitimate Canadian pharmacies where the costs can be more than 50 percent lower than U.S. prices.”
Opponents of Sen. McCain’s amendment said they were concerned about the safety of imported prescription drugs. Despite oversight by the FDA, there is no guarantee that American consumers would be not be importing counterfeit drugs from less-than-reputable pharmacies, they argued.
“We are not talking about bus trips of seniors to reputable brick-and-mortar pharmacies right across the border. We are talking Canadian internet pharmacies, which may not even be in Canada, which pose a significant threat to American patient safety,” Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) said.
Sen. McCain’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 43-54. Voting “yea” were 27 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 16 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 29 Republicans and 25 Democrats. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to allow American consumers to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.