Illinois Gov Wants Feds to Bless Canadian Drug Reimport Program

December 22, 2003 ( - Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will ask federal officials to designate his state as the first to be federally approved for a drug reimportation program.

Blagojevich (See IL Governor Wants a Review of Preferred Drug Provider List ) was set to make the request of US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to allow the state to save money by facilitating the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada, according to The New York Times. The Blagojevich request is only the latest political maneuver in a swell of pressure from local and state leaders to cut costs by buying drugs outside the country’s borders.

While some government officials who have previously leaped onboard the Canadian drug reimportation bandwagon have vowed to press forward (See Boston Mayor Pushing Ahead With Canada Drug Buying Program ), Blagojevich insisted he will not break the law. Instead, under his proposal, federal authorities would first waive the law and allow Illinois to save what the governor estimates could be up to $90.7 million a year by buying Canadian medicine for state employees and retirees.

In recent months, a steadily growing roster of governors and mayors have increased pressure on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow state and municipal governments to do what some older Americans have been doing on their own for years: filling prescriptions in Canada, where regulations make prices 30% to 50% lower. Even as FDA officials have reiterated their worries about the safety, security and reliability of the practice, lawmakers in some Midwestern states and in Northeastern cities, including New York (See Big Apple Mayor Wants to Harvest Drugs From Canada ), have publicly discussed strategies for pursuing the idea.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, and Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota (See MN Governor Brings Canadian Drug Buying Plan to the Streets ), a Republican, have begun planning a Washington summit on the issue for governors in February, Blagojevich’s aides said.

Illinois pays a share of the drug costs for the state’s 230,000 employees and retired employees on its health plan. According to Blagojevich’s latest request, the state could either contract with a Canadian pharmacy benefit manager to run the pilot program by mail order, or the state could work with Canadian sources to buy certain drugs in bulk, then distribute them from a mail-order center in Illinois.