Audit Deals Blow to Illinois Drug Import Program

September 21, 2006 ( - A program meant to slash prescription drug costs for senior citizens and those without health insurance by buying cheaper drugs across the border is serving fewer than 3,700 in Illinois, an audit revealed.

According to Business Insurance, an audit by the Illinois auditor general revealed that after 19 months of operation the I-SaveRx program – which is available in Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri and Vermont – has served fewer than 3,700 residents and has cost nearly $1 million. The number of residents in other states that the program covered was even less at 1,265, the audit found.

The program involves the importation of drugs from pharmacies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Despite the audit’s condemnation of the program, Governor Rod Blagojevich has plans to extend coverage to include state employees, according to a news release . The program’s expansion would allow the state to reduce its annual prescription drug costs and reduce, and in some cases even eliminate, copayments for state employees and dependents. The expanded program for employees would be voluntary, the news release stated.

The Illinois audit gives more weight to the argument that importing drugs from Canada may not be as cheap or as well-received as those pushing for it thought (See FDA: Canada Drugs Not Necessarily Cheaper ). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – an agency standing staunchly against drug imports – said in 2004 that simply buying generic brands could bring down costs.

Springfield, Massachusetts – the first city in the US to by drugs from Canada – pulled out in late August after three years, even though it said buying cheaper priced drugs saved the city $3 million annually (See Springfield to Exit Canadian “Club” ). The program sparked national attention when the city’s former mayor flouted the warnings of the federal government that said the drugs could be dangerous.

The debate surrounding this issue hinges on the safety of drugs made outside the country, as the manufacturing of these drugs is not regulated by the FDA, and whether allowing their import would compromise US borders.

The FDA did receive the backing it wanted from Congress on its efforts to stanch the flow of prescription drugs from Canada, with the Senate approving this summer a loophole that would exclude Canada from the ban on prescription drug imports (See Senate Opens Gate for Prescription Drugs from Canada ).