- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

BOSTON (AP) — A group of Massachusetts lawmakers has proposed publicizing the prices of prescription drugs in Canada to help consumers find the best deals.

Under proposed legislation, residents would be able to contact a state office to find out how and where they can save the most money on medications in Canada.

“The state could and should be the information broker,” said state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, a Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Health Care Committee. “We’d provide as much information as people need and let them make the best cost decision as well as the safest decisions.”

The plan, which would be the first of its kind in the nation, has the support of a dozen legislators.

The supporters are looking for help from the state’s U.S. senators because federal law bans the importation of drugs by anyone except pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The Bush administration has supported keeping that ban in place, although Congress has shown a willingness to change federal laws governing drug imports from Canada.

The state must be careful not to violate federal law or help others do so, said Peter Koutoujian, chairman of the Massachusetts House Health Care Committee.

But at the same time, the state could perform a valuable service and maybe prompt a change in federal law, he said.

“This is an idea that’s gaining momentum,” he said. “One would prefer to see a private effort along these lines, but to date, there has not been any such effort. The government has to step up to the plate.”

The pharmaceutical industry has expressed opposition to the plan, saying it could help counterfeit drugs make their way to the United States.

State Sen. Richard Moore, a Democrat, thinks the state should pursue other ways to bring down drug prices, such as pressuring drug manufacturers to offer state discounts.

“Massachusetts never seems to do very well when it comes to foreign policy,” he said.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, has no official position on the proposal but would rather not see additional costs incurred by government in a time of budget problems, a spokeswoman said. The plan’s supporters estimate that the program could cost the state about $250,000 a year to operate.

“The concept is something we’ll review,” Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman said. “But if we’re talking about a new level of bureaucracy, that is something that the governor is generally not supportive of.”

Thousands of senior citizens from Massachusetts are flouting the law by taking buses to Canada or ordering drugs through the Internet to take advantage of prices that are as much as 90 percent cheaper than in the United States.

The Food and Drug Administration has shown little willingness to crack down on people doing so.

Amherst resident Rosemary Morgan, 68, who said she saves more than $1,000 a year purchasing the breast-cancer-fighting drug tamoxifen in Canada, said she would support an idea that would enable her to comparison shop.

“Anything that makes drugs more affordable for the people that need them is a good thing,” she said.

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