Iowa Latest State on Canada Drug Bandwagon

January 22, 2004 ( - Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack wants to put his state on the roster of state and local governments trying to institute a Canadian prescription drug reimportation program.

Vilsack wrote US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson to ask that his state be declared a testing ground for the controversial Canadian drug program, according to the Des Moines Register. Vilsack said Iowa could save $10 million annually by helping employees and retirees buy drugs through Canada.

Illinois , (See Illinois Gov Wants Feds to Bless Canadian Drug Reimport Program ) Vermont and Minnesota (See MN Governor Looks Up For Lower Drug Prices ) have made similar requests of Thompson, and all face skepticism at the agency. One of Thompson’s top aides told the Register that his agency doesn’t have the legal authority to grant the requests, even if it wanted to.

“In the face of a state fiscal crisis, an economy that continues to falter, and the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs, as governor, I have no choice but to explore different options that can help the consumers and taxpayers of Iowa,” Vilsack wrote.Vilsack said his plan includes important safeguards, including provisions mandating that local pharmacists keep an eye on the Canadian drugs coming in.

Meanwhile, William Hubbard, associate commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told the Register that he disagrees with Vilsack’s contention that the recently passed Medicare reform bill allows for such pilot projects. Hubbard said he met with Vilsack a few weeks ago and was impressed with the governor’s thoughts on the issue. “He sincerely wants to do a good thing for the citizens of Iowa,” Hubbard said. “On the other hand, we pointed out that there’s a fundamental contradiction between what he wants to do and what the federal law instructs us to do.”

The law says Thompson can only allow imports of drugs if he can certify that they’re safe, Hubbard said. He and other federal leaders say they can’t do that, even though critics say many of the medicines are identical to those sold for much higher prices in the United States.