(Host) The issue of re-importing prescription drugs from Canada is emerging as a key issue in this year’s gubernatorial race. Governor Jim Douglas and his Democratic opponent Peter Clavelle have sharp disagreements over the role that state government should play in making these lower cost drugs available to all Vermonters.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) While Governor Douglas is advocating a policy of cooperation with the Bush administration on this issue, Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle wants to challenge the federal government’s opposition to re-importation.
Douglas has asked the Federal Food and Drug Administration for permission to allow the state of Vermont to launch a pilot program that would permit state employees to purchase their drugs in Canada. The FDA is currently reviewing the request. Douglas is convinced that it’s the right approach to take:
(Douglas) “This would set up more sophisticated process with a pharmacy benefit manager in Canada to facilitate the re-importation of drugs on an overall basis. So the fact that’s limited to at least initially to state employees and retirees I think gives the FDA some reason to seriously consider it.”
(Kinzel) Clavelle, as mayor of Burlington, started a program this winter that allows city employees to buy their drugs directly from Canada. He’s not waiting for federal permission:
(Clavelle) “What we are doing in Burlington, what I have done, is to provide bold leadership and common sense when its needed to save money and to put prescription drugs in medicine cabinets of our citizens and our employees and other Vermonters can access this program. But the state could do a great service by providing access to Vermonters to safe affordable re-imported drugs.”
(Kinzel) Clavelle says Republican governors in Minnesota and New Hampshire have taken aggressive steps to make Canadian drugs available to their residents and he thinks Douglas should follow their lead:
(Clavelle) “The time has come to represent the interests of consumers rather than representing the pharmaceutical industry. And by refusing to go to Canada for prescription drugs that’s exactly what our governor and our president are doing. They’re more interested in protecting the pharmaceutical industry than they are providing access to Vermont consumers.”
(Kinzel) But Douglas says it’s wrong for states to arbitrarily decide which federal laws they’re going to abide by and which ones they’re going to ignore. And he thinks congressional support for a re-importation bill is growing:
(Douglas) “Well I took the oath of office. It’s important to respect the federal law and work to change it. So the system is working it’s already passed the U.S. House. We’ve got to keep pushing the process forward.”
(Kinzel) Douglas says re-importation is not the only way to reduce drug costs. The governor says a number of Vermont citizens are experiencing lower prices because Vermont has entered into a multi state purchasing pool with a number of northeastern states.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.