Boston will proceed with plans to let city employees purchase prescription drugs, including those to treat HIV disease, from Canada despite a federal prohibition on importing them, Mayor Thomas Menino said Thursday after meeting with Food and Drug Administration officials. Associate FDA commissioner William Hubbard and other agency officials urged Menino during a one-hour meeting at the agency's headquarters to drop the cost-saving plan. Menino said he intends to press ahead toward launching a pilot program in July but added he will continue to discuss it with FDA officials.
Boston is one of a growing number of cities and states considering the cross-border importation of prescription drugs as a way to cut costs. Only Springfield, Mass., has a full program in place that allows its employees to buy the much cheaper medications from Canada, where the government controls prices. In many cases, the same drugs sold in the United States can cost only half as much or less in Canada because of the Canadian government's negotiations with drug companies for price cuts. For example, the anti-HIV medication Combivir can be bought in Canada for about two thirds the U.S. cost. A year's supply of the breast cancer medication tamoxifen costs $3,000 less at Canadian prices.
The FDA has been meeting with local and state officials from around the country to stress the legal and safety problems of importing Canadian drugs. After Thursday's meeting, FDA officials said they will visit Boston to again try to persuade Menino to drop the idea.
The FDA has argued that buying drugs from Canada is risky because U.S. officials cannot guarantee the safety and dosages of medicines imported or purchased over the Internet. Menino's pilot program would give about 7,000 Boston workers and retirees who receive health coverage through the city's self-insurance plan the option of buying their drugs from Canada.