Bill that would help curb drug shortages headed for vote after 15-month delay

Ten-month-old Elena Schoneveld is running out of life-saving medications that can treat and cure her cancer.

How long does it take for Congress to pass potentially life-saving legislation that has widespread support and no obvious opposition? We're now at 15 months and counting.

Since 2005, the number of medications in short supply -- including cancer drugs -- has more than tripled. The reasons are complex and include manufacturing problems and reduced production due to lower profits with generic drugs. There is no simple answer. But one key solution is to give the Food and Drug Administration more power to help solve the problem.

Given enough warning, the FDA has been able to prevent shortages by helping companies increase production. The FDA itself has asked for a law requiring companies to warn the agency when drugs are running out. A bill was introduced more than a year ago with bipartisan backing. But it has languished since then, never reaching a floor vote.

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I went to Washington and asked six members of Congress -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- why it's taking so long. The segment aired earlier this week on the CBS Evening News.

Watch Dr. Jon LaPook's original report below.

Finally, the finish line appears close. Two weeks ago, the drug shortage legislation finally cleared a Senate committee. And just this morning I got some good news from Michael Mahaffey, the communications director for U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla. He told me that the Energy and Commerce Committee approved a larger bill today that includes the legislation.

That means language supporting the new law has now passed out of committee in each chamber of Congress. The next step is for full House and Senate votes on the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office told CBS News this week that the vote in the Senate could come before Memorial Day.


  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook