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Senators May Stall McClellan's Confirmation as Medicare Chief

  • February 27th, 2004

Two senators are threatening to delay the confirmation of Mark McClellan to run the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs because of his zealous opposition to the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. (See "Bush Names FDA Chief to Run Medicare/Medicaid Agency," ElderLawAnswers, Feb. 22, 2004.)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a meeting of governors that he and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) would stall McClellan's nomination to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "until there's a full and complete explanation of why he will not make prescription drugs from Canada available to Americans." McCain also said that he and others would employ parliamentary maneuvers to force votes in the Senate on the hot-button issue.

In his current post as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), McClellan, a physician and economist, has repeatedly warned that importing prescriptions from Canada and other countries is dangerous, and the FDA has threatened legal action against those who do. But IMS Health, a medical research firm, estimates Americans bought $1 billion worth of drugs from Canada last year, where prices are often 30 percent to 80 percent less than in the United States. As the controversy escalates, mayors and governors are joining in the defiance of the FDA. (See "Elderly Couple Suing Government Over Drug Import Ban," ElderLawAnswers, Feb. 26, 2004.)

"Dr. McClellan has done a great disservice by trying to frighten our citizens into believing that drugs imported from Canada are somehow hazardous or dangerous," McCain said.

Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson moved to quell the growing firestorm by announcing plans for a year-long study of the issue. But his choice of McClellan to head the inquiry was denounced by Democrats.

"It gives new meaning to putting the fox in charge of the chicken house," said Sen. Dorgan.

While no senators are questioning McClellan's qualifications for the CMS post, "they see his upcoming nomination hearings as leverage on the drug importation issue," according to The Washington Post.

To read the Washington Post article, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A3298-2004Feb24.html (Free registration required.)

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Susan Pollack

Needham Mitnick & Pollack, PLC
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Margaret A. O'Reilly, PC
Herndon, VA

Last Modified: 02/27/2004

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