According to the New York Times, the deal PhRMA struck with the White House and Senate Finance committee this summer in exchange for its support of health reform is now apparently holding up a vote that would allow drugs to be reimported from Canada. The bill, sponsored by North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, has enough votes to make it into the health reform bill. The CBO has said that the bill could save the U.S. $19.4 billion over the next 10 years, though industry and the FDA have voiced concerns that reimported drugs might be susceptible to adulteration.

But Sen. Dorgan says that his bill addresses those concerns.

“U.S. consumers are charged the highest prices in the world for drugs that sell for a fraction of the price in most other countries,” Mr. Dorgan said. “My amendment includes strong safeguards to prohibit drug counterfeiting and other practices that would put the consumer at risk. It applies only to F.D.A.-approved prescription drugs produced in F.D.A.-approved plants from countries with comparable safety standards.”

And two Senators have filed an amendment to the health reform legislation moving through Congress that would prevent drug companies from mining prescriber-identifiable data for marketing purposes, according to the Associated Press. Companies buy physician prescribing data and sell it to pharmaceutical companies, which use it to target their sales pitches. By filing the amendment, sponsors Sens. Kohl (D-WI) and Durbin (D-IL) have raised the national profile of this problematic marketing tactic, which some states have been grappling with for years.

“I think at both  federal and state levels you’ll see continued momentum because it’s clear the issue of drug marketing influence hasn’t been addressed yet,” Community Catalyst’s Marcia Hams told the AP.

In other Senate news, Big Pharma’s epistolary thorn-in-side Sen. Grassley was at it again this week, writing to 33 patient and professional medical groups to ask for details about the industry funding they receive.  Among them, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Apparently, it’s all how you define industry. AMA spokesman Mike Lynch told the Times that “industry funding comprised less than 2 percent of the organization’s budget,” though last year the organization made a handy $47.6 million licensing physicians’ data, which is then bought by  pharmaceutical companies for data-mining.

“These organizations have a lot of influence over public policy, and people rely on their leadership,” Mr. Grassley told the Times. “There’s a strong case for disclosure and the accountability that results.”

And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier this week on how Congress, FDA and consumer groups are looking at ways to curb TV and online direct-to-consumer advertising for patient safety.  Some members of Congress are considering putting a moratorium on ads for new drugs, or lifting the tax break pharma companies currently get on consumer ads. And recently, the FDA requested public comment on how to regulate pharma and medical device companies’ online marketing. At the hearing, the Pew Prescription Project’s Allan Coukell told agency officials that marketing regulations should protect the public health first, and not be loosened for online ads before there is evidence that the public health is being protected by such ads.

“Before the FDA provides a pathway for companies to do a whole new kind of marketing,” he told the Post-Dispatch,” I think they should be looking for evidence of health benefits,” he said.

–by Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger