Illinois will contract with a pharmacy
benefits manager to establish a clearinghouse of state-inspected and
approved pharmacies and wholesalers in Canada, Ireland and the
United Kingdom. The new system will be available online and will be
the first in the United States to reach beyond Canada to meet the
growing demand for affordable drugs and to provide ongoing state
oversight of foreign pharmacies.
"We have taken every possible step we
could think of to convince the FDA, the Congress, and anyone and
everyone who will listen, that people across Illinois and across our
country deserve access to safe and lower cost prescription drugs,"
said Gov. Blagojevich. "We can't keep
asking people to spend more money than they have just to afford the
medicine they need. We can't keep asking the 500,000 senior citizens
who live in Illinois and lack prescription drug coverage to keep
deciding, ‘Do I pay for my medicine or do I buy my groceries?' These
are real choices people have to make every single day. And it
shouldn't have to be that way. And they shouldn't have to keep
waiting for their government to help them. The federal government
has failed to act. So it's time that we do."
May, Gov. Blagojevich dispatched a delegation made up of members of
his staff, the Office of Special Advocates for Prescription Drugs,
and the departments of Public Health and Professional Regulation to
research whether Illinois could look to Europe for safe and
affordable prescription drugs.
The Illinois delegation met with
representatives from governments, pharmacies, wholesalers, parallel
importers, health and insurance funds, and professional and trade
associations in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands
and the United Kingdom. Members of the delegation methodically
assessed pharmacy practices, manufacturing practices, warehousing
and storage, and distribution and dispensing processes and compared
them with Illinois standards and practices. The group concluded that
Illinois could establish a network of foreign pharmacies that would
meet state standards and provide safe medications at much lower
Tuesday the governor released the
report of the European study, the findings of which closely mirror
those of the state's Canadian study last year. The experts found
that Illinois consumers could save money by buying their medications
from European pharmacies and could obtain safe prescription drugs
equivalent in every way to the medications they purchase in the
"And so today, I am announcing that
Illinois will become the first state in the nation to give its
citizens the opportunity to purchase prescription drugs from Canada,
Ireland and the United Kingdom," the governor said on Tuesday. "That
means that the 12.6 million people who live in Illinois will now
have the opportunity to save hundreds and in some cases thousands of
dollars on the high cost of their prescription drugs. We can't keep
asking people to spend more money than they have just to afford the
medicine they need."
"Today, once again, the state of
Illinois is leading the nation in an effort to provide lifesaving
medications at affordable prices to citizens in Illinois, as well as
saving taxpayers millions of dollars," said Emanuel, the congressman
participating in the announcement on Tuesday. "It is time for the
Senate to follow the state of Illinois and the House of
Representatives and pass legislation that an overwhelming majority
of Americans support. Governor Blagojevich and the state of Illinois
are joining the other states and municipalities in a growing
movement while Washington sits on the sidelines."
The new program will connect users to a
Canadian clearinghouse through the Internet or a toll-free telephone
number, providing country-by-country information on the prices and
availability of approximately 100 of the most common brand-name
medications used to treat chronic or long-term conditions and
enabling Illinois consumers to order their drugs from the country of
their choice for 25 percent to 50 percent less than the U.S. retail
price. If all Illinois residents used the program to purchase
medications available through the website, total projected savings
could reach $1.9 billion in the first year.
The Illinois import program will build
in numerous safety measures to ensure the quality and safety of
drugs dispensed. The list of available drugs will be limited to
those that are used for long periods of time and those that cannot
be spoiled during the shipping process. Consumers will be able to
order eligible drugs for refill only, so that patients and their
doctors have had time to review for unanticipated side effects or
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For new enrollees, the U.S. doctors can
fax or patients can mail in an original prescription
to the clearinghouse, where it will be reviewed for
appropriateness and then turned over to a program physician for
review. If the program physician approves, he or she will rewrite
the prescription and submit it to a network pharmacy. The pharmacy
will perform a final safety check to comply
with local laws and regulations before dispensing the
medication. For pre-enrolled patients, the medication will be
delivered within two weeks of the day the prescription and order are
received by the pharmacy.
All medications will come from the
pharmacy benefits manager's network of state-inspected and approved
providers in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Illinois
Department of Public Health and the Department of Professional
Regulation will work with the pharmacy benefits manager to inspect
all network pharmacies to ensure they meet the state's
pharmaceutical safety standards.
In its initial rollout, the
import program will be targeted at the estimated 23 percent of the
state's population, including 500,000 senior citizens, who lack
prescription drug coverage and are forced to pay the highest drug
prices in the world. In the second phase, the state will waive
co-payments for members of its employee and retiree health plans who
purchase their medications through the website, saving the state up
to $50 million. In the final phase, up to 12 months after the
initial launch, the import plan will be expanded to include other
state programs like the Circuit Breaker Pharmaceutical Assistance
program, as well as small businesses that don't offer prescription
coverage to their employees.
Last fall, the governor sent a team of
experts to Canada to study the effect of importing prescription
drugs from that country. The group reported that importing
prescription drugs from Canada is not only safe, but in some cases
even safer than purchasing prescription drugs here in the United
States. The governor and his experts then traveled to Washington,
D.C. to share the results of their study with other experts and
leaders around the country. The group met with members of Congress
and officials from the FDA and the Department of Health and Human
In December, Emanuel joined Gov.
Blagojevich in asking the federal government for a special waiver to
launch a pilot program to import prescription drugs from Canada.
After weeks of waiting for a response, the governor helped organize
a class action lawsuit to give senior citizens across the nation the
same opportunities that senior citizens in states that border Canada
have to purchase cheaper prescription drugs.
"And as we've done all of this over the
past year, the reality is the cost of prescription drugs in the
United States has not gone down but instead has actually gone up. In
fact, because of the current policies of the federal government, we
are going in the wrong direction on the issue of prescription
drugs," said Blagojevich.
Last year, the prices of the 30
prescription drugs used most by senior citizens rose more than four
times faster than the rate of inflation, according to Families USA.
And as seniors in droves turned to Canada for better prices, at
least five major drug makers began to limit supplies to Canadian
pharmacies that served Americans.
The drug-makers' actions made it clear
that Canada could not be the sole supplier for an Illinois drug
import program, prompting Gov. Blagojevich to expand his review of
foreign pharmaceutical systems.
At the end of January, the state of
Minnesota launched a website that connects consumers to two Canadian
pharmacies that were approved by state inspectors. Wisconsin, New
Hampshire and North Dakota have since established similar sites.
Despite its public opposition to
prescription drug importation, the FDA has not taken action against
any of the states.
Illinois' program will go a step
further by including approved European pharmacies in the network and
by providing ongoing state oversight of the network wholesalers and
Illinois website and toll-free service will be operational within a
[News release from the