HHS Denies Illinois Request To Allow Reimportation of Prescription Drugs
HHS officials on Thursday officially denied a petition from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) for approval to launch a state pilot program to reimport lower-cost, U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from Canada, the Chicago Tribune reports (Chase, Chicago Tribune, 6/4). Last October, Blagojevich requested that HHS allow the state to establish a reimportation pilot program in which Illinois could contract with a Canadian pharmacy benefit manager to administer the program by mail order or could purchase certain medications in bulk from Canadian pharmacies and distribute them from a state-based mail-order center. Under the proposal, FDA and state lawmakers would have to agree to the prescription drugs included in the program, and the state would have to limit participation in the program to 230,000 state employees and retirees. According to an 85-page report commissioned by Blagojevich in September and released in November, the state could save as much as $56.5 million per year on prescription drugs for state employees and retirees through reimportation from Canada, and state employees and retirees could save as much as $34.2 million of their $340 million annual prescription drug expenses from the practice. After the state received no response to the request from FDA officials, Blagojevich and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) in April filed a petition to force the agency to respond within six months (California Healthline, 4/15).
FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford on Thursday wrote to Blagojevich in a four-page letter, "Our review indicates that such pilot projects are not authorized under current law and present added safety concerns." He added that FDA opposes such programs because the agency cannot guarantee the safety of reimported prescription drugs. In a separate letter to Blagojevich, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan wrote that the agency has worked with other states to help reduce medication costs through a multistate prescription drug purchasing pool for Medicaid beneficiaries. Blagojevich spokesperson Abby Ottenhoff said that the decision by HHS to deny the petition was "not surprising," adding that the Bush administration "has not been very concerned about finding honest ways of helping people afford their prescription drugs" (Chicago Tribune, 6/4).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.