Schenectady County

Bill would allow Canadian drugs

A state senator is proposing legislation to allow New York’s elderly to purchase lower-cost prescrip

A state senator is proposing legislation to allow New York’s elderly to purchase lower-cost prescription drugs from outside the United States through the state’s Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program.

The legislation is modeled on a program Schenectady County adopted in 2004.

The Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., D-Bronx, chairman of the state Senate Standing Committee on Aging, said the proposal could save the state billions of dollars and does not violate federal law, which prohibits the importation of prescription drugs.

“Senior citizens in New York State should no longer have to decide whether to buy groceries or fill their prescriptions,” Diaz said.

Under his proposed legislation, senior citizens would be allowed to sign a contract voluntarily with CanaRx Services to purchase their prescription drugs. CanaRx is a pharmacy manager with contracts with more than 100 pharmacies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and other Commonwealth countries. It arranges shipments from those pharmacies directly to patients in the United States.

The state chapter of the AARP supports the bill. The Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, among other groups, opposes the legislation.

Selig Corman, of the pharmacists society, said the association opposes Diaz’s legislation “because the EPIC program is already getting excellent rebates from manufacturers, in some cases 40 percent or better off of the average wholesale price.”

Corman said the only time EPIC gets involved is if there is a co-pay and EPIC picks up most of the co-pay. EPIC participants pay a maximum of $20 in copayments and as little as $3. “The savings he is looking at don’t exist,” he said.

In addition, Corman said the legislation would “split and divide the patient profile” as seniors would get their medicines from different sources. “Most people in the EPIC program go to one pharmacy and that is where their records are, and pharmacists monitor their therapy there,” he said.

“Most seniors take a number of different prescriptions and it is in the patient’s best interest to have one pharmacist monitor the patient,” Corman said.

Diaz will hold public hearing 10 a.m. Wednesday in Conference Room 6 of the Empire State Plaza on his proposed legislation, which he calls the New York State Prescription Medication Cost Containment Program.

Diaz said he expects his committee to approve the legislation on March 30. His son, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., D-Bronx, is co-sponsoring the legislation in the Assembly. Diaz Sr. expects both houses to approve the legislation before the state Legislature adjourns this summer.

Christopher Lynn, a spokesman for Diaz Sr., said the proposed legislation would require the director of the state Office for the Aging, which manages the EPIC program, to consider all prescription drug sources, including foreign, for the program.

EPIC pays up to 90 percent of prescription drug costs for people age 65 and older. Drug companies and program participants pay the remainder. Most EPIC participants also have Medicare Part D or other drug coverage and they use EPIC to pay their deductibles, copayments and premiums.

Lynn said Diaz will examine the legislation’s effect after a year and calculate the savings. “If it’s successful, we would apply this to other state programs. The savings could be in the billions,” he said.

The state spent $943 million on prescription drugs under EPIC in 2006-07, according to Sen. Diaz’s offices. Medicare Part D reduced it to $543 million in 2007-08.

Schenectady County saved a total of $5.8 million in prescription drug costs since 2005, including a savings of $730,000 in 2008, through its program.

Lynn said the legislation does not violate federal law. “In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that only individuals can do this, but if state and political subdivisions choose to do this, the FDA will not take action,” he said. He said he reviewed current FDA guidelines when writing the bill and that the legislation complies with federal law.

Chris Kelly, a spokesman for the FDA, said, “Under current law, importing drugs from abroad that are not approved in the United States is illegal. Canadian pharmacy drugs are considered illegal. Most are not approved in the United States.”

CanaRx said its medications are produced in FDA-approved facilities owned by the same companies that market the drugs through U.S.-based outlets, and therefore in compliance with federal law.

The FDA has not taken any new action against CanaRx since issuing a warning letter in 2003.

Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner said the county has not had any legal problems since starting the program in 2004. He said each employee signs a contract with CanaRx Services and the county pays CanaRx. Employees purchase the drugs for personal use and their involvement in the program is purely voluntary, Gardner said. The county encourages employees to use CanaRx, though. Employees who purchase maintenance drugs through the program or through the American company, Express Scripts, are exempt from the co-pay. If they go outside the program they get hit for a $60 co-pay, Gardner said.

Gardner said he is hopeful the state will approve the legislation and he sees a similar program taking effect nationally under the Barack Obama administration.

“We are the only country in world that does not regulate its drug prices. We are paying 40 percent to 60 percent more for brand name drugs than other countries,” Gardner said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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