Importing Medication Saves Senator Kaine’s Dad ‘A Lot of Money’

Written by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Posted June 22, 2022

“My father brings his glaucoma medication in from Canada – and has for years. So he’s a ‘lawbreaker’ but he saves a lot of money by doing it. And there’s a whole lot of people just like him.”

– Tim Kaine, United States Senator

So true! Senator Tim Kaine’s father is certainly not the only American who imports prescription medication from another country. Millions of Americans each year rely on filling their prescriptions internationally. Prescription drug costs, which for top brand name drugs are almost 400% higher in the U.S. than in other high-income countries, have driven one out of four of us to either ration or completely skip taking our prescribed therapies. Despite the practice’s technical illegality under most circumstances, no one is charged or prosecuted, including Sen. Kaine’s dad! 

Kaine spoke up during a recent meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee over a markup of legislation to reauthorize the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee program in which drug companies must pay fees to the FDA to have their product’s reviewed before approval. Among the proposed amendments, Senator Bernie Sanders, long a champion of lower drug prices,  issued one that would expressly allow for the importation of drugs from Canada and the United Kingdom, two countries with drug regulation authorities comparable to that of the United States FDA. Canada and the UK would effectively serve as pilot countries to usher in presumably other eligible nations after two years.

Sen. Kaine, in support of Sanders, gave voice to so many, about 2.3 million people a year who import lower-cost medicines, when he basically said, “Hey, my dad does that!” 

Despite unique support from across political ideologies, specifically from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), and, of course, Sen. Kaine, that amendment failed to make the cut. 

Current law, however, states that the FDA “should” use enforcement discretion to “permit” personal drug importation that is not an “unreasonable risk” to the patient. It looks like an amendment that did pass may actually undermine that permissiveness, cynically in the name of supporting importation.

More to come on this developing legislative issue, but hats off to Sen. Kaine for waving the flag for safe personal prescription drug importation, which remains a lifeline for Americans who can’t afford life-saving medicine domestically.

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