Wisconsin Latest State to Consider Reimported Drug Buys

By Joanne M. Haas | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

Madison, Wisconsin (CNSNews.com) - Wisconsin's governor says he will meet with Canadian officials next week to learn more about purchasing cheaper prescription drugs from America's northern neighbor, while continuing to pressure Congress to approve legislation making such importation legal.

"Wisconsin's seniors are forced to pay staggering prices for prescription drugs, but our neighbors in Canada can often walk into a drug store and purchase the same medications for a fraction of the price," Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle told a Capitol news conference in Madison Thursday.

Doyle's announcement comes as a handful of other states explore similar plans to obtain financial relief for citizens facing escalating prescription drug costs.

"There's an enormous incentive for the taxpayers of Wisconsin to find cheap ways to buy prescription drugs, and hopefully to help citizens themselves buy prescription drugs at a much lower cost," he said.

The problem is current federal laws and rules do not allow imported drugs due to concerns by the government and the drug industry about the quality and safety of such drugs. Doyle said to the best of his knowledge, no state has yet to import drugs from Canada.

"There are some legal issues involved in doing that," Doyle said. "There is a bill in Congress that would make it clear that states can do that." That bill is H.R. 2427, known as the Medicare Prescription Drug Act pending before the U.S. House-Senate conference committee.

Wisconsin's Department of Health and Family Services spends $600 million on prescriptions for Medicaid, SeniorCare and other programs. The state also is expected to spend about $115 million this calendar year on prescription drugs for state workers -- a 15 percent increase from last year.

Doyle said the state does get "good deals" through a consortium when buying prescription drugs for the Department of Corrections. The state spends about $12 million on prescriptions for inmates.

However, Doyle said some of those same drugs purchased for inmates are listed for 17 to 40 percent less on the website for the Canadian pharmacies.

"Just going on their website like any consumer, you can find huge savings over what the state currently pays," Doyle said. "Using the state's market power to bargain group discounts with Canadian pharmacies might generate even larger savings for taxpayers.

The governor's plan to meet with the Canadians was cheered by State Sen. Judith Robson, a Democrat from Beloit, a community bordering Illinois. Robson in September asked Doyle to find ways for the state to buy its drugs from Canada.

Robson, who is a registered nurse, also lauded U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) for co-sponsoring legislation in the Senate to allow U.S. pharmacies, wholesalers and individuals to import prescription drugs manufactured at 25 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved facilities outside the country.

"The murmur of discontent over the steep cost of prescription drugs has turned into a prairie rebellion -- a groundswell of demand from the heartland that Congress take action," Robson said.

There has been no major opposition yet among Wisconsin officials to the governor's possible reimportation of drugs from Canada. However, as previously reported by CNSNews.com , the Food and Drug Administration has indicated any such plan by the states would violate federal law.

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