MN Governor Brings Canadian Drug Buying Plan to the Streets

October 17, 2003 ( - "The time for talk is over,'' Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said in announcing a plan to help Minnesotans import US-manufactured drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

The move is being positioned as a way of putting pressure on national leaders to tackle high prescription drug prices, according to an St Paul Pioneer Press report. While scaled down from Pawlenty’s original proposals (See MN Governor Looks Up For Lower Drug Prices ), the program includes five-steps to help residents of the state catch a break in drug pricing:

  • establish a Web site at which any Minnesotan could buy prescription drugs from approved Canadian pharmacies at prices negotiated by the state
  • identify foreign-made, FDA-approved prescription drugs and negotiate with a wholesaler or broker to import them into the state
  • provide financial incentives to state employees as a way to encourage them to buy their medications online that would include waiving co-pays or allowing state employees to share in the savings
  • encourage US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and other federal officials to eliminate federal barriers to importing prescription drugs
  • convene a governors’ summit on prescription drugs by the end of the year, which would discuss, among other topics, a federal lobbying effort to bring changes to the US. prescription drug marketplace.

Brian Osberg, the Minnesota Department of Human Services ‘ assistant commissioner of health care, the agency charged with development of the Web site, said the online tool should be up and running “in a matter of months.” He caveated the launch date by saying it is still unclear how long it might take to complete the selection and negotiation process.

State Plans

Minnesota’s move would mark the first state with such a plan in place. Recently, Minnesota’s midwestern neighbors – Iowa and Illinois – have discussed similar proposals, but nothing yet has been formalized (See Iowa Looks To Hop on Canadian Drug Bandwagon, Illinois Gov Pushes For Canadian Drug Purchases ). However, the state would not be the first public government with a prescription drug-buying plan – Springfield Massachusetts launched a Canadian prescription drug-buying program earlier this year (See Springfield, Mass. Pushes Canadian Drug Order Program ).

The governor’s announcement did not come without its critics though. Strong criticism came from the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, which cited a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finding that 88% of drugs imported by private citizens pose “potentially serious safety problems” for consumers (See FDA Says 90% of Imported Mail-Order Drugs Hazardous ).

“This proposal is bizarre,” said David Strom, the league’s legislative director and vice president. He says the plan “ignores the dangers posed by prescription drug re-importation – or simply wishes them away. It also is based on the fiction that there is a competitive world market in prescription medications, and that ‘free trade’ will help solve our problems. There’s no free trade when you are simply importing another country’s price controls.'”

Voicing concerns for jobs of Minnesota pharmacists was Julie Johnson, a pharmacy owner and the executive vice president of the Minnesota Pharmacists Association. She called the plan “an ill-advised solution to the problem” and said it will deprive patients the advice and guidance that local druggists provide. “We’re gone and we have never been a cost driver,” said Johnson, predicting the end of local drug stores if the plan goes through. “Drugs are the cost driver.”