Drug import exemption: Dorgan asks federal officials to allow states to buy prescription drugs from CanadaNorth Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer have asked federal officials to allow their states to buy prescription medicines from Canada, a move they say could save their constituents $400 million annually. Dorgan and Schweitzer signed a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services secretary, asking her to allow the imports. Federal law allows importation of medicines from Canada if the secretary says it would be safe to do so.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer have asked federal officials to allow their states to buy prescription medicines from Canada, a move they say could save their constituents $400 million annually.
Dorgan and Schweitzer signed a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services secretary, asking her to allow the imports. Federal law allows importation of medicines from Canada if the secretary says it would be safe to do so.
Because of Canadian price controls, prescription drugs are often available there at cheaper prices than what they are sold for in the United States.
Dorgan said the medicines come from the same manufacturers that sell them here, and said he saw “no safety issues at all” for U.S. customers who want to buy medicine from approved Canadian pharmacies.
“If such a program exists, it will force the pharmaceutical industry to reprice their prescription drugs and be fair to the American consumer,” Dorgan said Tuesday during a conference call to discuss the letter.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said the request would be reviewed. Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s Washington, D.C.-based trade group, said drug imports would pose a safety risk.
Health and Human Services “has stated that it could not assure the safety of imported medicines from foreign countries, or that such a scheme would save American consumers money,” Johnson said in a statement.
Schweitzer said American citizens may return from abroad with 90 days’ worth of medicine, but he said people who are sick shouldn’t have to travel to Canada to save money.
Dorgan said the proposal would allow North Dakota and Montana pharmacists and drug wholesalers to order supplies from Canada to resell to their customers.
However, Sebelius would have the final say over how the process would work, including whether customers from those states would be able to use the Internet to order drugs directly from Canadian outlets, Dorgan said.
In their letter to Sebelius, Dorgan and Schweitzer said residents of their states filled more than 18 million prescriptions in 2008 and spent more than $1 billion on prescription medicines. Customers in North Dakota and Montana could save $400 million annually by buying from Canada, they wrote.
Dorgan and Schweitzer, who are both Democrats, have pressed initiatives that would allow American customers to import prescription drugs from other countries that sell them more cheaply.
Dorgan and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., attempted to include a provision in the recent health care overhaul legislation to allow drug imports. The idea was defeated, but Dorgan said he intends to resurrect it soon as an amendment to a food-safety bill.
Last month, Schweitzer sought federal permission to bring in drugs from Canada for Medicaid, state employees, prison inmates and Montana’s health insurance program for children.
He said Tuesday his proposal got no answer, but that the two states working together should generate a reasonable response.
Schweitzer has also tried to coax the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs into reselling to Montana pharmacies medicines that the federal agency buys at a discount from drugmakers. The VA said last week that federal law prevents it from approving the request, saying the agency could only redistribute the medicine to veterans.
AP writer Matt Volz contributed to this article from Helena, Mont.