WASHINGTON -- Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday named FDA commissioner Mark McClellan, a vocal opponent of importing drugs from Canada, to lead a government study of the issue.
The study is required by the new Medicare law, which left in place the government's ban on bringing in cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Thompson promised the study would be balanced. Led by McClellan, the Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly said it opposes importing drugs because it cannot guarantee they are safe.
The Bush administration's decision last week to nominate McClellan to head the agency that runs Medicare provoked criticism from lawmakers, who cited his opposition to reimportation.
"It's unbelievable," said Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. "Dr. McClellan has made it known that he believes reimportation is unsafe, which obviously reflects the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. If ever there were a fox in the chicken coop situation, this is it."
Thompson said the commission will determine whether and how drugs could safely be imported from Canada and perhaps other countries. He said the panel will listen to governors and lawmakers on both sides of the issue. "It's going to be a balanced commission," Thompson said.
Dorgan, Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said yesterday they will delay McClellan's nomination until he explains to Congress his opposition to importing drugs.
President Bush nominated him to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is responsible for putting into place the sweeping Medicare law that Bush signed in December. McClellan has been FDA commissioner since 2002, winning generally high marks from lawmakers but frustrating some by serving as the Bush administration's leading spokesman regarding imported drugs.Wisconsin began providing its residents with access to Canadian Internet pharmacies yesterday, following a model developed by Minnesota. In Massachusetts, Springfield is importing drugs from Canada, and Boston is considering doing the same.