Iowa Governor Asks HHS To Allow Pilot Program To Reimport Prescription Drugs From Canada
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) on Wednesday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, requesting that Iowa be allowed to launch a pilot project to reimport lower-cost, U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from Canada, the Des Moines Register reports (Leys, Des Moines Register, 1/22). Under Vilsack's proposal, the state would work with the FDA to develop a list of drugs that could be purchased from Canadian pharmacies, the AP/Omaha World-Herald reports. The state would set up a program to allow participants to coordinate their drug regimens with an Iowa pharmacist. The state also would implement a monitoring system to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the reimported drugs. In addition, wholesalers and pharmacies filling prescriptions through the program would be licensed and regulated by Canadian or U.S. authorities, and drugs would be dispensed only with valid prescriptions. "I believe that we have a unique opportunity to test the concept of importation with the implementation of a pilot program in Iowa. Our program will allow HHS and the FDA to gauge, on a small scale, the feasibility of drug importation while authorizing Iowa to obtain safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs for its employees and retirees in a controlled setting," Vilsack said in the letter (AP/Omaha World-Herald, 1/22). Vilsack said that the pilot program could save at least $10 million per year, adding, "In the face of a state fiscal crisis, an economy that continues to falter and the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs, as governor, I have no choice but to explore different options that can help the consumers and taxpayers of Iowa." According to Vilsack, the new Medicare law (HR 1) affords Thompson the authority to give Iowa permission to reimport prescription drugs as a pilot project. FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard said that the law does not allow for such reimportation pilot programs, adding that "there's a fundamental contradiction between what [Vilsack] wants to do and what the federal law instructs us to do" (Des Moines Register, 1/22). Vilsack asked Thompson to respond to the letter within 30 days (AP/Omaha World-Herald, 1/22).
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) on Wednesday said that he supports allowing U.S. residents to purchase medications from Canada and permitting Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies as ways to lower costs, the AP/Washington Post reports. According to the Kerry campaign, the price of prescription drugs in Canada can be 30% to 80% cheaper than in the United States. "We are facing a health care crisis in this country," Kerry said, adding, "There is simply no way to bring our families affordable health care if you're not willing to take on the powerful special interests in Washington" (Glover, AP/Washington Post, 1/21).
At least five drug companies that operate in both the United States and Canada are considering or have already taken steps to end or limit prescription drug shipments to Canadian mail-order pharmacies, according to a Canadian pharmacy official, CongressDaily reports. Dave MacKay, executive director of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said that GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Wyeth are "limiting or cutting off supplies of drugs sold in Canada to wholesalers and then distributed to Canadian mail-order pharmacists who sell to [U.S. residents]." The move "could stem the ability" of Canadian mail-order pharmacies to sell drugs to U.S. residents, CongressDaily reports (Rich, CongressDaily, 1/22).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.