Douglas offers Vermont for re-importation pilot program

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(Host) The Douglas administration is asking Congress to use the state of Vermont as a pilot project for the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada. The proposal will be presented at a special Congressional hearing in Boston Tuesday afternoon.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Legislation allowing consumers to purchase their drugs from Canada has been strongly endorsed by the U.S. House; it’s now being considered in the U.S. Senate.

In an effort to put more pressure on the Senate to act quickly on this issue, a bipartisan group of House members – that includes some of the most conservative and the most progressive members of that chamber – is holding a field hearing in Boston to take testimony from state officials from across the country who support the measure.

Administration Secretary Michael Smith will represent the state of Vermont. Smith will offer Vermont as a good site for a pilot program for this bill:

(Smith) “It’s relatively simple. We think we have the mechanism that can be readily available to implement this program and also we have a lower population. So if they’re looking for a national model and looking for a place to find an national model, we would welcome to be the test case.”

(Kinzel) The Bush administration opposes the bill for safety and economic reasons. Congressman Bernie Sanders, who’s one of the sponsors of the re-importation bill, is hoping that the new coalition will send a clear message to the president:

(Sanders) “Then what happens is the Bush administration has got to look out and say, My god, all over this country people are rebelling against the pharmaceutical industry. They cannot and will not continue to pay the highest prices in the world and we’d better do something.”

(Kinzel) The legislation is actively opposed by the national pharmaceutical industry. Jeff Trewitt is a spokesperson for their trade organization, known as PHARMA:

(Trewitt) “When you have artificially low prices brought on by price controls, it hurts the ability of innovative pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to create new medicines. And if you look at the Canadian pharmaceutical industry that would certainly seem to be in the case. As near as we can tell, the Canadian pharmaceutical industry in recent years has researched and developed no more than a handful of innovative new medicines.”

(Kinzel) Trewitt says a better way to make drugs more accessible and available to older people would be for Congress to include a strong drug provision in a Medicare reform bill.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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