Douglas, Senate support drug re-importation bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that will allow Vermonters to import lower cost prescription drugs from Canada. Governor Jim Douglas, who has had reservations about the idea, says he supports the bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation authorizes Vermont to join a multi-state program, launched by the state of Illinois, which allows individuals to purchase prescription drugs directly from a Canadian pharmacy. Consumers will be able to purchase the most popular 100 drugs, at a saving of up to 50 percent, by using a special Web site.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Ann Cummings says the proposal is not a long term solution to the state’s health care needs but it is a good temporary way to make drugs more affordable for individuals who don’t have insurance coverage:

(Cummings) “But we feel that people are doing it and we should allow them a way to do it in the safest possible manner. And the important thing is that people get the pharmaceuticals they need. If they can’t afford them, that is the most unsafe way because they will die.”

(Kinzel) Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jim Leddy says it’s critical for the state to act on this plan because the federal government has been unwilling to address this issue:

(Leddy) “So this isn’t a first approach to a problem it’s a last resort and that is why we are bringing this bill here to effectively remove the hostage label on so many of our poorest citizens.”

(Kinzel) While he supports the concept of re-importation, Governor Jim Douglas has been reluctant to support specific plans because he thinks they are in violation of federal law.

Despite those concerns, Douglas says he will support this bill:

(Douglas) “There are some limits to the effectiveness of a program like that although I have no objection to providing for re-importation. Vermonters should understand this is not the answer to our health care reform needs. A very small number of Vermonters are likely to benefit in some cases and I think that’s fine but I really hope we can get past this and get the Legislature focused on more comprehensive reform.”

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the Senate on Thursday. It will then be considered in the House where a companion bill is already being actively reviewed.

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

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