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February 24, 2004

~ Capitol Hill summit features governors, congressional leaders on reimportation issue~

Washington, DC – Two of the nation’s leading proponents of prescription drug reimportation, Governors Rod Blagojevich (D) of Illinois and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota (R), hosted an historic meeting of governors and Congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss reimportation of prescription drugs as a way to cut medicine costs for American consumers.  Joining Blagojevich and Pawlenty were Governors Jim Doyle (D) of Wisconsin and Bob Wise (D) of West Virginia. 
“The American people deserve a better deal on their prescription medicines,” said Governor Pawlenty.  “As governors, it’s our job to look for innovations and new ways to bring prescription drug costs down.  Everyone’s bottom line – families, businesses and units of government alike – are impacted by the outrageous and unfair cost of prescription drugs in the U.S.  We need to change that.”  
“We’re here to share ideas and develop new, innovative solutions to the growing crisis in prescription drug prices.  As Governors, we’ve done everything we possibly can to reduce our state spending on prescription drugs.  We have redesigned our health plans. We have negotiated with providers for lower prices.  We have asked employees and retirees to share more of their prescription costs,” Governor Blagojevich said.  “But our fight to keep the cost of prescription drugs from overwhelming our state budgets – and from bankrupting our most vulnerable citizens – can’t stop at the border.  Re-importing American drugs from Canada is a constructive solution to a serious and growing problem.”
As part of the summit, the governors heard from a bipartisan Congressional panel, including U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Congressmen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL).  In addition, they heard from panelists both favoring and opposing prescription drug reimportation.
Last fall, Governor Blagojevich released the results of a comprehensive study he commissioned on the savings and feasibility of importing prescription drugs for Canada for Illinois’ 230,000-member employee and retiree health plan which found the state and its health plan participants could save a combined $90.7 million a year.  In late December, Blagojevich asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to allow Illinois to work with HHS and the FDA –
to launch the nation’s first pilot drug importation program.  The Illinois plan would include a number of safeguards like limiting drugs involved in the program to medications approved by the FDA for use in the U.S.; only drugs used to treat long-term or chronic conditions would be listed on the formulary; every prescription would need to be filled by an Illinois pharmacy at least once before it would qualify for the Canadian program; and every Canadian pharmacy in the plan would be inspected by Illinois regulators.  The Secretary has not yet responded to Illinois’ request.
Earlier this year, Governor Pawlenty unveiled a first-in-the-nation website that enables Minnesota citizens to purchase prescription medicines directly from Canadian pharmacies.  The site, www.MinnesotaRxConnect.com, enables Minnesotans to have their prescriptions filled at one of two Canadian pharmacies that have been inspected and assessed by the State of Minnesota.  Since its launch in January, the site has received more than 35,000 hits.  The next phase for Minnesota includes providing incentives to state employees to purchase their prescriptions through the new website and urging federal changes to enable states to use bulk importation so citizens can purchase lower priced medicines through their local pharmacists. 
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle announced today that on Wednesday, February 25, the state will expand its prescription drug website -- drugsavings.wi.gov -- to enable Wisconsin citizens to purchase prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies that the state has inspected and found to be safe and reliable.  Governor Doyle has also asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to launch an anti-trust investigation of drug companies that have threatened to cause shortages in Canada and blacklisted Canadian pharmacies that do business with U.S. customers.
"Our neighbors in Canada can walk into their corner drugstore and buy safe prescription drugs for a fraction of what we pay here," said Governor Doyle.  "If the Federal Government won't act to give our citizens access to those lower prices, then states like Wisconsin will be forced to take action on our own." 
"In West Virginia, we have taken some important steps in the fight against the high cost of brand-name prescription drugs," Wise said.  "We created a drug discount program for seniors through our Golden Mountaineer Card and are joining the first-ever multi-state prescription drug purchasing pool. We've also been exploring the possibility of importing prescription drugs from Canada and believe state programs should be able to purchase at the lower prices available to the federal government."
Governor Wise invited Canadian internet pharmacists to meet with West Virginia officials and representatives of other states at a meeting in Atlanta to discuss how to make their services available to our citizens. West Virginia has joined with Delaware, New Mexico and Missouri to form a multi-state prescription drug pool. Use of a preferred drug list for the state's Medicaid program will save the state about $20 million each year and the Golden Mountaineer Card provides 17,000 senior citizens in our state who have no other drug coverage an 18 percent discount on their prescriptions.


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