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State Officials Unveil Initial Canadian Drug Importation Plan

DENVER (CBS4) - Colorado could become one of the first states to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. A law passed earlier this year required the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to submit a plan to the federal government.

(credit: CBS)

The department laid out how the plan would work at a public meeting. The initial plan includes 65 drugs, including asthma, HIV and hormonal therapies as well as EpiPens.

State Pharmacist Kelly Swartzendruber says about 40 percent of the United States' prescription drugs are foreign-made, but we pay much more for those drugs than Canadians.

Ethan Lovell is among those who attended the meeting. He said he's in his early 50's and hopes the plan is in place when he needs it.

"As you get older, it's inevitable," said Lovell. "You will be on additional medications. The average senior citizen is on ten."

Still, there are a lot hurdles. The state would buy the drugs from FDA approved manufacturing facilities in Canada, then repackage, relabel and export them here.

But the pharmaceutical industry may not be inclined to play along. Tom Massey is Deputy Executive Director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. He said their options could be worse.

"Either you participate or it's done to you," said Massey. "I think there's a real will to see government involved in controlling prices so I would think they would want to have a voice in the process."

It's not just drug manufacturers. Canada, which has drug shortages, says it won't allow the U.S. to import its drugs. Massey said they are talking with the Canadian government officials.

"We just had a meeting today. I can't tell really you what the outcome of that is, but we're trying to be really collaborative and work with our partners," said Massey.

He said the state is going one step at a time. It would help if other states joined in. Only three have passed similar laws.

"If Colorado is one of three, five, ten and then ultimately fifty states that go this route, it can be consequential," said Lovell.

The federal government has said it will only approve Colorado's plan if it saves money and ensures safety. While any Coloradan would be able to buy the drugs, certain types of drugs - including biologics like insulin - are excluded under federal law.

The state will submit its plan by January 15.  It could be two to three years before it takes effect.


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