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September 24, 2003

Blagojevich takes fight for lower prescription drug prices to Capitol Hill
Joins allies in Congress to push for legislation permitting drug re-importations, calls on FDA to give states flexibility in pursuing lower prices

Washington, D.C. – Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich traveled to the nation’s capital today to rally Congress to help states and local governments gain access to the lower priced Canadian prescription drug market.  The Governor was joined by U.S. Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and other members of Congress at a press conference on Capitol Hill.


It doesn’t matter where you are or where you’re from, people are struggling. Everyone knows that.  If there’s a way to do something to make prescription drugs more affordable, we have to explore that option. Everyone knows that too.  What everyone may not yet know is that prescription drugs from Canada are identical to the prescription drugs we purchase here in every single way but one – the price,” said Blagojevich.


Earlier this month, Blagojevich instructed his Special Drug Advocates to study and report to him on what the cost savings would be if Illinois state employees and retirees were allowed to purchase brand-name, FDA-approved prescription drugs in Canada. 


“If we do decide to move forward with this idea, Illinois would become the first state in the nation to reimburse the 230,000 participants in our health care plans for purchasing drugs made and sold outside of the United States,” the Governor said.  “And if this idea makes sense, we would also likely be the first state in the nation to offer imported prescription drugs to the 1.5 million senior citizens eligible for coverage under our state’s new prescription drug buying club.”


Blagojevich sent FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan a letter last week asking to meet with him and urging his agency to work with states and local governments to find a safe way to re-import less expensive pharmaceuticals from Canada.  McClellan responded in a letter late yesterday, saying that his agency has concerns about the safety of some drugs manufactured abroad.


Unable to secure a meeting with McClellan, Blagojevich responded to McClellan in writing again.  “As you know, the FDA currently permits private health plans, including the AARP, to reimburse participants who purchase prescription drugs from Canada.  You briefly note in your letter that the FDA permits private insurance plans to reimburse consumers for drugs purchased while traveling abroad, but then say that reimbursing consumers for drugs manufactured abroad yet purchased in the United States is somehow different.  The distinction seems questionable. 


“Either certain drugs manufactured abroad are safe, and both private health plans and state and local governments should be permitted to reimburse consumers for purchasing them, or they’re not safe.  If they are safe, why deny less expensive prescription drugs to millions of consumers?”


In response to McClellan’s assertion that re-importation should not be an option because some FDA-approved drugs manufactured abroad do not comply with U.S. regulations, the Governor wrote, “No one is suggesting that we import prescription drugs that aren’t safe.  But instead of simply saying that certain drugs meet your guidelines and certain drugs do not and leaving it at that, why not work to help more prescription drugs manufactured abroad meet your guidelines, so that more consumers can eventually purchase them and save money?  Giving up so easily fails the millions of people in my state – and the tens of millions of people across the nation – who cannot afford the prescription drugs they need.”


Following his press conference, Blagojevich met with key lawmakers to discuss current legislative negotiations over final language for the Medicare bill.  The Governor urged members of Congress to include a drug re-importation provision similar to that included in the Gutknecht-Emanuel Pharmaceutical Market Access Act that passed the House earlier this year with bi-partisan support.


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