Springfield, Mass. Pushes Canadian Drug Order Program

August 6, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Springfield, Massachusetts has begun a program for city employees and retirees to order prescription drugs from Canada.

The city began the campaign of urging its 7,000 workers and 2,000 retirees to order prescription medicines for themselves and their dependents on July 8. Springfield, the Bay State’s third largest city, with a population of some 152,000, said ultimately it could realize savings of $4 million to $9 million a year on these costs, which currently total $18 million annually, according to published reports.

To entice city employees and retirees to take advantage of the voluntary system, the city is waiving copayments – currently ranging from $6 to $20 per prescription – for participants that place their orders though CanaRx Services Inc., an Ontario company that mails three-month supplies of prescribed drugs from Canadian pharmacies. Overall, this appears to be a small price to pay for the city that cites savings on drugs ranging from 20% to 80%.

City officials contend that the plan does not require federal approval because it is voluntary and because individuals, not the city, place the order for drugs (current US law forbids anyone other than manufacturers from importing drugs). However, while the program currently is voluntary, the city hopes to implement it for all employees and retirees by the end of the year once it receives required approval from city unions. All but two school department unions have endorsed the plan.

So far, about 300 employees or retirees had signed up, with an additional 30 to 40 participants requesting enrollments forms a day.

Targeted Timing

Michael Albano, Springfield’s Mayor, earlier told said Canada’s National Post that he intended to keep the city’s plan secret until it could be evaluated, but made it public in order to tilt the vote on a Senate debate on Medicare reform. The bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, would allow US pharmacists to buy drugs from Canadian and European pharmacies, a practice currently banned by the Food and Drug Administration. The reform bill faces strong opposition in the US Senate, the disapproval of the Health and Human Services Secretary, and a potential presidential veto.

“The timing of our announcement was not coincidental. I wanted to get it out because I knew it was going to draw some national attention here, and when the story gets out I’m hopeful that any senators that are not leaning in our direction will,” Albano said, according to the Post.

Precedent Potential?

Andy Troszok, vice president of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said he believed Springfield was the first governmental agency to establish a formal drug program with Canada, and suggested that the city’s involvement would give the movement more credibility, according to the Boston Globe.

However, Dennis Lyons, director of government and regulatory affairs for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said it sets a dangerous precedent, according to the Globe. ”He’s doing what he has to do to save money,” Lyons said of Albano. ”But I’m very concerned. This is going to put enormous pressure on other mayors. But it’s illegal. And the liability could far exceed the savings.”