Editorial, Opinion Piece Respond to Governor’s Veto of Reimportation Bills
An editorial and opinion piece recently examined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) decision last week to veto a series of bills addressing the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. Schwarzenegger has said he would address the high cost of medication in California with a prescription drug discount program for low-income, uninsured state residents. Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe in August indicated that Schwarzenegger planned to veto the reimportation bills in favor of the program, which would provide discounts for residents with annual incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty level.
CaliforniaRX would provide cards that participants could present to pharmacists, who would seek the lowest prices for their medications through state or pharmaceutical company programs. The program would require $3 million in annual funding and would be open to state residents covered by Medicare or residents enrolled in private health plans who need help paying for prescription drugs not covered by their health insurance.
Legislation to create the plan could be introduced early next year, and state officials have said the discount card could be available for about 4.8 million low-income state residents as early as Jan. 1, 2006. Each discount card would cost about $10 per year. A report released last month by Democratic legislators and patient advocates showed that the reimportation bills would have provided residents with 30% to 50% more savings than CaliforniaRX (California Healthline, 10/1). The editorial and opinion piece are summarized below.
San Jose Mercury News: Although Schwarzenegger has "promised to put Californians' needs ahead of special interest groups," his vetoes on the reimportation legislation "did just the opposite," a Mercury News editorial states. The editorial states that Schwarzenegger's veto message -- which pledges to "use all the options at [his] disposal" to lower drug costs for low-income and uninsured state residents -- is "not good enough" because the state "needs immediate relief." Drug companies have shown no intention of voluntarily lowering drug prices, the editorial states, adding, "Why would they do that when ... they've given the governor $337,200 in campaign donations." According to the editorial, the governor now has "limited options" for lowering drug costs, including pressuring the federal government to legalize reimportation; closing "the loopholes keeping brand-name generic prescription drugs off the market;" and permitting more bulk purchases of drugs on the federal, state and local levels. The editorial concludes that supporting any of these plans "would mean standing up to the pharmaceutical industry and showing off some muscle, an arena where Schwarzenegger needs to start displaying his expertise" (San Jose Mercury News, 10/5).
- Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento Bee: The reimportation bills were "probably overrated and overhyped," as the very concept of Canadian reimportation "is more of a political than an economic strategy, and one that could succeed only for a short time," Weintraub, a columnist, writes in a Bee opinion piece. Weintraub says he is "torn on this issue" and "believe[s] that individuals should be free to get their drugs wherever they can find them," but he also notes that reimportation could "stifle innovation" by spurring "government-imposed price controls." Weintraub questions whether drug firms should be the "subject of our anger," adding that if prescription drug costs were covered by a third party, "individual consumers would have little incentive to push back against those costs." Weintraub concludes that the reimportation efforts show that "contrary to conventional wisdom, consumers will go to great lengths to save a buck (or several hundred) on medical care," and "we might actually get somewhere" if "we could encourage and harness that kind of consumer empowerment over the rest of the medical industry" (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 10/5).