Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Obama + Sebelius = Drug Importation

The new version of Friday the 13th broke box office recordsa few weeks ago. So perhaps we should not be surprised that drug importation is also coming back from the dead to wreak havoc once more. The danger comes from both President Obama as well as his latest nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services.


President Obama's budget proposal slipped in the following curious phrase on page 67:

“The Budget supports the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) new efforts to allow Americans to buy safe and effective drugs from other countries …”

Huh? What does this phrase mean?
Didn't Obama back away from this idea during the campaign?

Granted, a President’s Budget is always long on vision and short on details, but I can’t find any other details in the full document. Naturally, this item did not merit inclusion in the economic projections included in the budget since importation won’t actually save any money. See my 2007 article
Importation Illusions or peruse my many previous DC posts. Check out the FDA Law Blog for a primer on the current legal issues.

BTW, I still believe that cross-border drug importation could benefit intermediaries such as wholesalers and pharmacies. (See
Drug Importation and Global Wholesale.)


In contrast to a mysterious budget statement, the predilections of the latest HHS nominee are unambiguous. Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed Kansans up for I-Save-Rx in 2004. This program allows individual consumers to divert – excuse me, “import” – drugs from Canadian and European pharmacies.

The I-Save-Rx program was a failure – low participation rates and lax safety standards. The Illinois Auditor General found that 40% of inspection forms for pharmacies inspected for the I-Save Rx program were incomplete, and that the State did not monitor whether prescriptions were being filled only by approved pharmacies. (Source:
Illinois Auditor General’s Report)

Fans of political irony will appreciate that Governor Sebelius sided with impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (!) when announcing the program in 2004. See
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announce addition of Kansas to I-SaveRx prescription drug importation program.

This illegal importation scheme also featured prominently in Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment, during which he said:

“If you are impeaching me on providing safe and affordable prescription drugs--going to Canada and getting the same medicines made by the exact same companies--then the governor of Wisconsin ought to be impeached, the governor of Kansas ought to be impeached, the governor of Vermont ought to be impeached.”

Sorry, Ron, too late for impeachment. Governor Sebelius is now on her way to DC to run the soon-to-be
biggest payer for prescription drugs. I hope someone will save us from her support of “innovative partnerships” like I-SAVE-RX.


P.S. It's 3/3/09. Happy square root day!


  1. Thanks for correctly refering to this as "importation" and not the incorrect "reimportation" term used by so many. Ignorant politicians are falsely comforted by a misunderstanding, thinking that these products are made in U.S., exported, and then "re-imported." That is usually not the case.

  2. Nice detective work on the Governor's support of the I-save-rx mess. Has she ever gone on the record and changed her views? At this point, I bet the senate will just approve her and get started on Obama's "reforms." Be careful what you wish for!

  3. I wonder if she has paid her taxes in the past!

    Great item about the I-save-Rx. If this importation begins, I can only imagine the sweet deals Walmart will be getting from their friends in China. Things continue to get more and more interesting.