CA Exploring Low-Cost Drug Alternatives

August 20, 2004 ( - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling for a new program in California to offer drug discounts to the uninsured as an alternative to importing drugs from Canada.

Kimberly Belshe, the state’s health and human services secretary, has rejected legislative plans to set up a Web site for California residents to facilitate the purchase of Canadian drugs. Rather, Belshe sent a letter to legislative leaders that outlines the administration’s plans to take advantage of free drug programs sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and renew efforts by the state to use its leverage to negotiate discounts, according to a San Diego Union Tribune report.

In the letter, Belshe said the free drug programs have not been sufficiently publicized or made accessible to people who qualify. Under the plan, participants would get a card they could present to a pharmacist, who would then find the lowest price for the drugs, whether through state-leveraged discounts or a manufacturer’s patient-assistance program.

Additionally, the state would contract with an outside vendor to negotiate price discounts from drug manufacturers and operate an enrollment system.

While the governor’s program would be targeted toward uninsured, lower-income residents, it would be available to families with incomes of up to 300% of the federal poverty level, or about $55,000 for a family of four.

Canadian Drug Efforts

The Democratic-controlled Legislature has given preliminary approval to two proposals for obtaining Canadian drugs. One would create a state Web site to make it easier for Californians to buy the cheaper drugs, while the other would put state agencies on the road toward buying them. The bills had been expected win final approval and sent to the Republican governor’s desk next week.

Pointing to efforts amongst legislatures to examine importation models, Belshe said such a proposal would expose the state to civil and criminal liability because it would violate a federal prohibition against importing drugs from Canada. Further, she added the l egislation “would at best be a symbolic gesture that would never be implemented and never bring relief to Californians who desperately need assistance.”

Even though federal law makes it illegal to import drugs from Canada, a variety of states are challenging the law. Earlier this week, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announced plans on to set up a state Web site to facilitate individual purchases from Canada, Britain and Ireland (See Illinois Becomes Fifth State to Import Prescription Drugs from Abroad ). With the announcement, Illinoisbecame the fifth state to allow residents access to imported drugs – the others areMinnesota,Wisconsin,New Hampshire, andNorth Dakotabut it will be the first state to include countries inEurope.