Local

‘I Think Everyone’s Under Pressure’: Vt. Pushing for Cheaper Prescription Drugs From Canada

The governor sent a letter to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department requesting talks on drug importation

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, has sent a formal request to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, asking for a meeting to discuss how Vermonters could obtain prescription medications from Canada more affordably than they can in the states.

The move follows new signals from the Trump administration that have advocates for lower-cost imports encouraged.

“I think everyone’s under pressure from the cost of prescription drugs,” Ena Backus, Vermont’s director of health care reform said Thursday.

HHS recently announced what it called its Safe Importation Action Plan, to support Americans looking to save on prescription drugs by importing them from Canada, where they’re cheaper.

“Why should other nations pay much less than us?” President Donald Trump asked in early July, reiterating his desire to see Americans save cash on their medications.

However, members of the Scott administration working on developing a drug importation system still have many questions, including what partnerships with suppliers would be needed? What drugs would or wouldn’t be covered, and when could such a plan be implemented?

“It feels like we may now have a pathway, in partnership with the federal government, to allow for this to happen,” acting Vermont Human Services Secretary Martha Maksym said Thursday.

Elia Spates Marquis of Derby told necn in February that she’d welcome the chance to buy insulin from Canada.

Spates Marquis said she needs at least six shots each day to manage her Type 1 diabetes, with four varieties of the hormone costing her family about $2,000 a month in the U.S.

“They could use that money to pay for my funeral,” Spates Marquis said this past winter in response to a question about what would happen without her insulin. “There’s no living without it. I cannot live without it.”

There have been pushes for years to close cross-border price disparities. To highlight them in July 1999, then-Congressman Bernie Sanders went to Montreal with several Vermont breast cancer patients to get meds much more affordably.

Twenty years later, the now-Senator and presidential candidate just made a similar trip with diabetics looking for relief.

“Here in Canada, it will cost 35 or 40 bucks—one-tenth the price,” Sanders said July 28 on the trip to Canada to spotlight high insulin prices in the U.S.

In a statement, the pharmaceutical trade group known as PhRMA said it strongly opposes what it termed an importation “scheme,” arguing one could cause medication shortages in Canada and claiming there’s no way to assure safety for drugs from outside the U.S. supply chain.

However, Maksym said Vermont leaders would work on setting up a system that would guarantee people are getting the proper drugs they were prescribed.

Backus said an initial projection was that Vermonters could save between one and five million dollars on prescription drug costs, but acknowledged that projection did not represent all insurance providers or account for the fact certain products, such as insulin, may not be allowed under the proposed federal plans.

Separately, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, has been championing two importation bills—one to assist with the high cost of insulin, which his office said Thursday are awaiting committee approval.

Contact Us