Bipartisan House caucus to promote generic drugs

Importation of medicines and faster federal approval could top the policy agenda.

By Doug Trapp — Posted May 19, 2011

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Two House members have established a group that they hope will produce legislation that leads to wider use of generic drugs, including follow-on biologics, and reduced national health spending growth.

Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R, Mo.) and Peter Welch (D, Vt.) founded the Congressional Affordable Medicines Caucus on May 12. The lawmakers have started recruiting additional members and will craft a caucus agenda when the initial member drive is finished.

"At the end of the day, we want to get more of our colleagues involved in these issues," Emerson said during a May 12 conference call with reporters.

Welch said two primary goals of the caucus are reducing health spending growth and demonstrating that lawmakers need to work across party lines to solve problems. Emerson said she also expects the group to lobby for an expansion of the Food and Drug Administration office responsible for approving generic drugs.

Emerson said some of the generic drug policies she supports have faced stiff opposition from the brand-name pharmaceutical industry, which she noted has multiple lobbyists for each member of Congress.

"There are just as many Democrats as Republicans who get a lot of help from the pharmaceutical industry," said Emerson, who is serving her eighth term in the House.

She said Americans pay "ridiculous" prices for pharmaceuticals compared with the rest of the world. The caucus may support importing less expensive drugs from outside the U.S. to reduce health care costs.

Welch said Congress' recent focus on federal deficit reduction could provide a window of opportunity for drug importation to gain more traction. Brand-name drug companies oppose importation on patient safety grounds.

The Generic Pharmaceutical Assn. issued a statement applauding the creation of the caucus.

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