It started with seniors crossing the border for cheap prescription drugs. Lately cities have gotten into the act. Now with state budgets strained to the breaking point at least two states, Illinois and California, are considering importing prescription drugs from Canada for state employees, retires, and Medicade recipients.
No one can say for sure what states can save by importing drugs, but Abby Outtenhoff, press secretary for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, says a five billion dollar budget deficit and spiralling drug costs has forced action.
While the FDA contends importation of Canadian drugs is illegal, the law allows importing of limited quantities for personal use, and the AARP has used this provision to have the seniors it insures personally order drugs from Canada and then reimburse them for the cost. By using this route, Illinois officials are hoping to import drugs legally.
Critics, such as the FDA's William Hubbard, say the FDA is taking a hard line on imported drugs because they're a threat to safety. He says shady companies, many of which aren't even Canadian, and diluted or counterfeit drugs pose a serious risk to consumers.
Hubbard is an assistant commissioner with the FDA. Last week, after being notified that California officials were considering importing drugs to help cut costs, the FDA sent California's attorney general a letter warning that California might be liable if anyone was injured by diluted, counterfeit, or mishandled drugs imported under California's auspices.
Missouri officials say they have no plans to import drugs. House Minority Leader Mark Abel is on the board of directors of the state employee's health plan, he says the legal confusion about importing drugs is one concern, but he also said that while drug costs are high, they're only about ten percent of state health care spending, and they're are other places to look for savings.
And while the price of drugs can drive insurers, employers, and consumers crazy, Abel says his view on the issue was influenced when a friend of his was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. A new lifesaving drug has given his friend hope of survivalm, but only because his insurance covers the twenty-four hundred dollar a month price tag.
From the State Capitol, I'm Aidian Holder