California Residents Take Train Ride To Protest Schwarzenegger Administration Opposition to Reimportation
A "rolling protest" train funded by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights -- a consumer group that supports legalizing the reimportation of lower-cost, U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and a national bulk-purchasing drug program -- on Monday left from Los Angeles on a trip to buy medications from a Vancouver pharmacy, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Jablon, AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/24). Participants in the event are "hoping to draw more attention to the issue" after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration last week sent a letter to state legislators indicating his intention to veto four bills addressing reimportation, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Colliver/Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/24).
The letter, which Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe sent to legislators Thursday, indicated that Schwarzenegger will veto bills that would allow the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada unless the bills are revised to include a new program to provide discounts for uninsured, low-income state residents.
Belshe's letter proposed revisions to the bills that would establish a California Rx program to provide prescription drug discounts for state residents with annual incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty level. The program would provide cards that participants could present to pharmacists, who would seek the lowest prices for the medications through state or pharmaceutical company programs.
Legislators who have backed the reimportation bills said the governor's plan would save low-income residents 15% on prescription drug prices, compared with an estimated 70% from reimportation. The proposal would require $3 million in start-up funding. Legislators have said the governor's plan was introduced too late in the session and could delay a vote on the issue until next year (California Healthline, 8/23).
Democratic legislators who sponsored the reimportation bills said it is unlikely that they "immediately" would amend their bills to address Schwarzenegger's concerns, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 8/24).
Barbara Morrow, vice president and general counsel for the Sacramento-based California Healthcare Institute, said, "The idea of trying to get the state to work directly with drug manufacturers in terms of meeting the needs of the working poor and uninsured is a better concept than importing drugs from Canada" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/24).
Jerry Flanagan of the Santa Monica-based FTCR, said, "Prescription drugs are bankrupting the entire health care system. ... The point [of the trip] is, we shouldn't have to go to Canada, and we shouldn't be restricted by policies that are giving away the store to pharmaceutical companies" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/24).
FTCR Executive Director Douglas Heller added, "Cheap drugs should not be just for Canadians" (Sacramento Bee, 8/24).
The "big 'if'" in Schwarzenegger's proposed prescription drug discount program would be its dependence on drug makers lowering their prices, considering that "[p]ublic generosity has not always been a trademark of the industry," according to an editorial in the Contra Costa Times. State legislators should incorporate in Schwarzenegger's proposal "one important change" that would establish a time limit of about six months for reaching an agreement with pharmaceutical firms, the editorial states. The editorial states that if negotiations with drug companies break down, the state should create a Web site to help residents reimport prescription drugs from Canada. "Without that bargaining chip, the pharmaceutical industry will always have the upper hand," the editorial concludes (Contra Costa Times, 8/24).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.