Texas Company Creates Program To Allow Consumers To Import Rx Drugs from Canada
SPC Global Technologies, a health claims processor based in Temple, Texas, has established a new program that will allow as many as 20,000 individuals enrolled in SPC client health plans to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, the Wall Street Journal reports. The program provides members with a list of about 250 prescription drugs available at a lower cost in Canada than in the United States. Under the program, members must obtain a prescription for a treatment through their physician in the United States and order the medication through SPC affiliate Expedite-Rx, which places the order with Cross Border Pharmacy in Canada. Cross Border sends the order to a Canadian physician, who rewrites and fills the prescription at a discount of as much as 67% of the U.S. price and sends the treatment to the member. According to the Journal, the program could "rattle the powerful pharmaceutical industry both by setting a possible precedent and by reviving public debate" over the cost of prescription drugs in the United States.
Although the SPC program may violate a federal law that bans the importation of foreign-issued treatments by those other than a pharmaceutical company or affiliate, FDA officials said that the agency may not take action against the company because SPC does not "handle" the treatments. William Hubbard, senior associate commissioner of the FDA, said, "If they're not actually importing drugs, I don't know what enforcement role we would have." However, Peter Barton Hutt, a pharmaceutical industry lawyer and a former FDA general counsel, said, "There is absolutely no legal ambiguity here. The people who are causing the illegal importation of drugs are as guilty as the people who have shipped them in." Some U.S. pharmacists also have "complained" that the SPC program will cost them business. Although other companies -- such as UnitedHealth Group -- have established programs to provide access to prescription drugs from Canada, the SPC program goes "further than other programs by facilitating the purchase and prescription of Canadian drugs, rather than leaving it to individuals to make their own arrangements" (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 10/21).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.