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Governors of Iowa, Minnesota to study buying Canadian drugs

Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsack and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said they will study whether their states can save money by buying employees' prescription drugs from Canada, even as US officials condemn the practice.

Vilsack said he plans to discuss such a program with state insurers if he finds that it would save money for Iowa's 70,000 employees. Iowa's drug costs rose 20 percent to $54 million last year. Iowa and Minnesota will also seek price cuts in talks with drug makers, such as Pfizer Inc., that supply their Medicaid programs for the poor, the governors said in separate statements.

The moves come as state and local governments seek ways to reduce soaring healthcare costs. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has appointed special advocates to study buying Canadian drugs, and California State Attorney Bill Lockyer has asked the US Food and Drug Administration for an opinion about the legality of such purchases if state laws are changed.

"We must do more to control the cost of prescription drugs and I believe we should take every step possible to take advantage of the potential for re-importation of drugs from Canada," Vilsack said in the statement.

Kevin Concannon, director of Iowa's Department of Human Services, will travel to Vancouver, British Columbia, on Oct. 1 to meet with health officials about opening the border between the United States and Canada for legal re-importation of prescription drugs.

Springfield Mayor Michael Albano has said his city would save as much as $9 million a year by buying drugs from Canada, where prices are controlled by the government.

US officials have said they can't guarantee the authenticity or safety of drugs bought in Canada. FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan told Blagojevich in a letter that Canadian officials have said they also cannot assure the safety of medicines exported from their country to the United States.

"We have seen many examples of drugs that appear to be from Canada but pose significant dangers to American consumers," McClellan said in the letter.

The agency recently reported that a vial of insulin officials ordered from a Canadian Internet pharmacy arrived unrefrigerated. Insulin can lose its effectiveness if not kept cold.

The US House has passed a bill that would allow Americans to buy drugs from countries such as Canada, where the average discount is about 67 percent, according to consumer advocates.

The measure is being fought by drug makers and regulators and may be jettisoned in negotiations with the Senate after a majority of Senators opposed it.

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