House approves prescription drug bill

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(Host) The Vermont House has given preliminary approval to legislation that allows individuals to purchase prescription drugs from Canada. Backers of the bill acknowledge that the measure is a short-term solution to the problem of higher drug costs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation authorizes the state of Vermont to join a collaboration launched by the state of Illinois known as I Save Rx.

This multi-state program works with a pharmacy in Canada to make the 100 most popular drugs available at a savings between 35 and 50%.

The Internet-based system can be used only to refill existing prescriptions, and supporters of the plan say the program is designed primarily for individuals who don’t have any health insurance drug coverage.

Middlebury Rep. Steven Maier says the bill is an important step in making these drugs available at an affordable price.

(Maier) “Approximately 100,000 Vermonters have no prescription drug coverage through their insurance programs. These are the Vermonters that are forced to pay the highest prices in the world for their prescription drugs. We know that one of the biggest risks related to prescription drugs is when people do not take the medications they need, and we know that many Vermonters can’t afford their medications so they’re not taking their needed prescription drugs.”

(Kinzel) Maier says the program has implemented rigorous safety standards to insure that the products are safe.

(Maier) “These are not the Internet pharmacies from which we all get e-mails. I Save Rx is comparatively much, much safer than any of the e-mail pharmacies you may have been receiving on your computer. Illinois has inspected and certified each pharmacy involved with the program using the same standards as they do with their own pharmacies.”

(Kinzel) Milton Rep. Kevin Endres said he supports efforts to lower drug costs but he’s very concerned that the program will have a negative impact on smaller pharmacies across the state.

(Endres) “I know that the margins for our pharmacies – our local Vermont pharmacies – are very slim, and have been for some time. I would hate to see us pass a bill that may briefly lower prices or get access to lower prescription drug prices at the cost or on the backs of some of our smaller retailers.”

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the House on Wednesday afternoon.

The proposal could be on Governor Douglas’s desk in the near future because the Senate has already passed a similar bill. The governor says he will sign the legislation.

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

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