Burton Introduces Bill To Allow Reimportation of Prescription Drugs From Canada for Prisoners
As expected, Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) on Thursday introduced a bill that would allow the state to reimport lower-cost, U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada for prisoners, the Contra Costa Times reports (Silber/LaMar, Contra Costa Times, 1/23). Under the legislation, the Department of General Services, which purchases prescription drugs for the California prison system, youth authority and mental hospitals, could reimport medications from Canada, the Los Angeles Times reports (Jones, Los Angeles Times, 1/23). Burton said that the state could save as much as $30 million per year under the legislation. In 2003, the general services department spent $176 million for prescription drugs, about 80% of which was for correctional facilities. "I have great difficulty figuring out why something is cheaper in Ottawa than it is in Detroit," Burton said (Berthelsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/23). Burton added, "Canada has testing standards equivalent to ours. It's just a bogus deal" (Los Angeles Times, 1/23). In addition, Assembly member Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) said that he plans to introduce two reimportation bills next week. One bill would require the Department of Health Services to establish a Web site that would direct users to state-approved Canadian pharmacies. The second bill would require the state to determine the amount of money that a reimportation program would save and to lobby the federal government for permission to establish such a program (Folmar, San Jose Mercury News, 1/23). "We need to see if there's a way California can save money on prescription drugs and if buying from Canada is part of that," Frommer said, adding, "If we do need to seek a federal waiver, then we need to do it because our drug costs are going through the roof" (Contra Costa Times, 1/23).
Dr. David Gollaher, president of the biotechnology trade group California Healthcare Institute, said that reimportation is "a terrible idea and a terrible plan" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23). FDA Associate Commissioner Peter Pitts said that the agency has "lots of examples of very unsafe things being brought in over the Internet," adding that reimportation is "bad health care practice and awful health care policy." David MacKay, executive director of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said that Canadian pharmacies could not meet the demand for prescription drugs from states such as California because pharmaceutical companies have limited their supplies (Contra Costa Times, 1/23). The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has requested a meeting with state lawmakers to discuss reimportation. Ashley Snee, a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, said, "The administration does have concerns with the growing cost of prescription drugs," adding, "We look forward to working with the Legislature to find ways to reduce the cost in accordance with the law and in ways that won't sacrifice quality." Snee said that Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the reimportation bills (Los Angeles Times, 1/23).
California residents "should be outraged" about the difference in price between prescription drugs sold in Canada and the United States and should support the reimportation bill introduced by Burton, a San Jose Mercury News editorial states. Although California faces a state budget proposal that calls for $3 billion in "painful health care cuts," the state will spend about $4 billion on prescription drugs for Medi-Cal, the editorial states, adding that the 40% price difference between medications sold in Canada and the United States is "a big chunk of change." The editorial adds that although the FDA opposes reimportation because of safety concerns, the agency "has not documented any cases in which an American has become ill because of unsafe drugs from Canada." According to the editorial, seven million California residents do not have health insurance, and many of them "can't afford the prescription drugs they desperately need." Meanwhile, the editorial continues, pharmaceutical companies are "happily raking in the profits and ignoring the pent-up anger Americans feel about paying more than practically anyone in the world for prescription drugs." The editorial concludes, "California shouldn't wait another minute to join the fight for cheaper prescription drug prices" (San Jose Mercury News, 1/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.