Two states launch first import drug program
Illinois and Wisconsin on Monday jointly launched the nation's first state-backed program to help residents buy cheaper prescription drugs from both Europe and Canada--despite federal laws banning the practice. The program, called I-SaveRx, works through a Canada-based clearinghouse and claims it can save residents 25% to 50% off U.S. retail prices on about 100 prescription medications. Prices on brand-name drugs in Canada and other countries can be significantly lower than the U.S. price for the same medications because of cost controls. Some anti-HIV drugs, for example, are available in Canada at half the price charged in the United States.
"Now the nearly 13 million people who live in Illinois and the more than 5 million people who live in Wisconsin will have the opportunity to save hundreds--and in some cases even thousands--of dollars each year on the high cost of their medicine," Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich said in announcing the start of the program. "Our seniors will no longer have to spend more money than they have just to afford the medicine they need."
By including pharmacies in Ireland and the United Kingdom, I-SaveRx goes beyond programs in other states that direct residents on how to buy prescription drugs from Canada, where drugs are often cheaper because of government price controls. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes such reimporting of prescription drugs, saying it cannot guarantee the safety of drugs sold through foreign pharmacies. But it has not stopped Minnesota and other states from setting up Internet sites to help consumers buy drugs through Canadian pharmacies. The FDA had no immediate comment on the I-SaveRx program.
Illinois, which created the I-SaveRx program, will not import the drugs itself. Instead, it has contracted with a Canadian company to connect residents with 45 foreign pharmacies and wholesalers that have been approved by Illinois health inspectors and verified by Wisconsin. The clearinghouse will provide information about 100 of the most common brand-name drugs used to treat chronic or long-term conditions. (AP, with additional reporting by Advocate.com)