Monday, Sept. 13

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Illinois, New Hampshire and Wisconsin governors push for drug importation vote

Letter to Senate majority leader calls for vote on Dorgan-Snowe bill

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[SEPT. 13, 2004]  CHICAGO -- Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich along with Gov. Craig Benson, R-N.H., and Jim Doyle, D-Wis., sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Friday, calling on him to allow a vote on an important prescription drug importation bill.

"Nearly 3 million people in Illinois alone don't have prescription drug coverage, which means they either go without the medicine they need, they take smaller doses than what their doctor prescribes, or they sacrifice other essentials like groceries to pay for their prescription drugs. No one should be forced to make those choices," said Gov. Blagojevich. "We're doing what we can at the state level to help our citizens get their medication at a price they can afford -- even if that means buying them in places like Canada and Europe where they cost half as much. But real, long-term change will require action at the federal level. The United States Senate has an opportunity to make a huge difference in millions of people's lives. We hope Senator Frist will not pass up this chance."

In the letter, signed by governors who launched their own importation plans, Frist was called upon to allow The Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2004 (S 2328) to be voted on before legislators return to their districts in early October. A similar bill (HR 2427) passed the House several times.

Earlier this year, Frist indicated he would allow the bipartisan Dorgan-Snowe bill to be debated and voted on by the full Senate, after a group of bipartisan senators threatened to block the appointment of Mark McClennan as director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In a recent statement, Frist stated, "It looks doubtful, just given we have 23 days."

Senate Bill 2328, introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would allow for the importation of FDA-approved prescription drugs from 19 developed countries, including Canada. Safety precautions include FDA inspections of foreign sites, anticounterfeiting measures and strict labeling requirements.

New Hampshire and Wisconsin both offer their citizens links to online pharmacies in Canada that have been approved by their states' inspectors.

In late August, Gov. Blagojevich announced that Illinois will establish a program enabling its residents to order their prescription drugs from state-inspected pharmacies and wholesalers in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Illinois' program will be limited to prescription refills and can only be filled after a network physician in Canada or the United Kingdom has approved and rewritten the American prescription. Narcotics and perishable drugs will not included in the program. The plan will be launched later this month. [For details, see plan announcement and Q&A.]

 

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The text of the letter sent by the governors follows:

Dear Senator Frist,

We are discouraged by recent media reports that you may not call prescription drug importation legislation for a vote in the U.S. Senate before lawmakers leave Washington, D.C., despite an earlier commitment to give your Chamber an opportunity to take action on the proposal. We urge you to reconsider.

The high cost of prescription drugs in our country is having a detrimental impact on people of all ages and in all regions of the United States. Recent U.S. census figures show that, for the third straight year, the number of uninsured Americans has gone up 45 million in 2003, an increase of 1.4 million. That means more people are forced to choose between necessities like groceries and medications.

Unfortunately, far too many people have to make those tough choices. And because Congress and the FDA have failed to find ways to help people afford the high cost of prescription drugs, states and cities have had to deal with the problem on their own.

Providing Americans access to affordable prescription drugs is a consumer issue, not a partisan issue. As Governors from different political parties, we share a common commitment to helping our citizens safely find better prices outside the U.S. for the medications their doctors prescribe something more than one million individuals a year are already doing. Our efforts will make a difference for residents in our respective states; but long-term, nationwide relief must come at the federal level.

The U.S. Senate has before it legislation that could permanently break down the artificial pricing system pharmaceutical companies have used to gouge American consumers. The

Dorgan-Snowe bill, S. 2328, has bipartisan support from lawmakers in both chambers of Congress. A similar proposal has won approval in the House of Representatives three times. Now is not the time to slow the momentum for change.

We recognize, respect, and echo your wish that all imported drugs are safe and meet the FDA's requirements. By contracting with legitimate and respected foreign pharmacies and sending experts to inspect foreign facilities, we are providing safeguards that are lacking in the current buyer-beware environment. The Dorgan-Snowe bill will go even further by providing a uniform set of safety procedures, including FDA approval of all imported drugs, labeling requirements that meet U.S. standards, counterfeiting measures, and the maintenance of pedigree documentation, which will allow FDA inspectors to verify and check the origin and chain-of-custody of all drugs imported to the U.S. Furthermore, this bill will rein in the anti-free market practices used by large drug manufacturers to limit the supply of drugs to countries that export to the U.S. Pfizer could no longer threaten pharmacies and wholesalers in Canada and the United Kingdom that have agreed to sell prescription drugs to American consumers at prices they can afford.

We urge you to follow through on your commitment to call the Dorgan-Snowe legislation for a vote this fall. By legitimizing and regulating the importation of prescription drugs, we, as a country, can move forward in ensuring that safeguards are in place to give our consumers access to drugs that are both safe and affordable.

Respectfully,

Rod Blagojevich
Governor of Illinois

Craig Benson
Governor of New Hampshire

Jim Doyle
Governor of Wisconsin

[News release from the governor's office]

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