Ver­mont plan to im­port Cana­dian drugs will re­quire White House ap­proval

Woonsocket Call - - REGION/OBITUARIES -

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Ver­mont is at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a first-in-the-na­tion pro­gram to al­low the whole­sale im­por­ta­tion of pre­scrip­tion drugs from Canada, but first the state needs ap­proval from skep­ti­cal White House of­fi­cials.

Re­pub­li­can Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill Wed­nes­day that passed with over­whelm­ing sup­port from Ver­mont’s three po­lit­i­cal par­ties. It’s the lat­est move in an at­tempt to bat­tle rising drug prices, which the bill’s sup­port­ers say place a large fi­nan­cial bur­den on both in­di­vid­u­als and state agen­cies.

“I’m in fa­vor of do­ing what­ever we can do to re­duce cost for Ver­mon­ters,” Scott said in a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day.

The state would need the ap­proval of the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices. It is un­clear how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will come down on the mat­ter. On the campaign trail, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said that Cana­dian drug im­por­ta­tion could be used to bat­tle rising prices, but HHS Sec­re­tary Alex Azar has said that im­por­ta­tion would not solve the prob­lem.

“You can’t im­prove com­pe­ti­tion and choice in our drug mar­kets with gim­micks like these,” Azar said in speech Wed­nes­day.

A spokesper­son for HHS pointed to Azar’s speech when asked whether the depart­ment would grant the waiver.

Ver­mont Sen. Claire Ayer, a Demo­crat from Ad­di­son and one of the co-spon­sors of the leg­is­la­tion, said she was dis­ap­pointed by Azar’s com­ments but is op­ti­mistic that the pro­gram can get the needed ap­proval. She noted that their pro­gram has the sup­port of the en­tire Ver­mont con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and said she hopes Trump is will­ing to try some­thing new to help the state’s res­i­dents.

“It could be one of those times Pres­i­dent Trump shows he can make a deal,” Ayer said.

The new law was based on model leg­is­la­tion from the Na­tional Academy for State Health Pol­icy. The or­ga­ni­za­tion said that Ver­mont is one of nine states that con­sid­ered sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion this year.

The state is ex­pected to work with of­fi­cials from the or­ga­ni­za­tion go­ing for­ward in the fed­eral ap­proval process.

“States have been in the lead to in­form the fed­eral de­bate and Ver­mont has taken an im­por­tant step,” said Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Trish Ri­ley.

Ri­ley also noted that the whole­sale im­por­ta­tion pro­gram dif­fers from past at­tempts to pro­vide Amer­i­can con­sumers with Cana­dian phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. Ver­mont was pre­vi­ously a mem­ber of the Illi­nois “ISaveRx” pro­gram that set up a mar­ket­place for per­sonal im­por­ta­tion. The pro­gram ran into re­peated issues with Amer­i­can and Cana­dian reg­u­la­tors be­fore be­ing ended in 2009.

The Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Re­search and Man­u­fac­tur­ers of Amer­ica, a trade group for drug­mak­ers, ex­pressed con­cerns over pa­tient safety.

“It is highly ir­re­spon­si­ble for Ver­mont leg­is­la­tors to pro­mote an im­por­ta­tion scheme that would cre­ate more av­enues for coun­ter­feit drugs to en­ter the coun­try in the mid­dle of an un­prece­dented opi­oid cri­sis,” said spokes­woman Caitlin Car­roll.

Ayer dis­missed the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s con­cerns as un­founded, and Scott said he be­lieved the bill had sig­nif­i­cant safe­guards.

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