O'Malley backs medicine imports

Health care platform includes lower-cost prescriptions from Canada

July 12, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

BOWIE -- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign yesterday embraced the concept of allowing patients to buy lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, the first component of what is expected to be a broader health care platform to be unveiled this week.

Arguing that other states have done more to deal with the rising cost of prescription drugs, O'Malley's lieutenant governor candidate, Del. Anthony G. Brown, discussed reimportation and other initiatives in the campaign's four-part plan at a series of events with senior citizens here yesterday.

"There are a number of challenges that we face, and we believe high on that list is health care," said Brown, a Prince George's County Democrat whose father is a physician. "We are committed to offering up solutions in Maryland to address the crisis that we're facing in providing health insurance to Marylanders."

Part of the campaign's prescription drug plan calls for Maryland to join Illinois, Wisconsin and a handful of other states that allow patients to purchase drugs from licensed pharmacies in Canada and overseas. The program, I-SaveRx, claims to save participants 25 percent to 80 percent off the domestic price of drugs.

Drug importation has become a contentious issue nationwide as critics question government's ability to regulate the quality of medicine sold across the border. In Maryland, legislation in the General Assembly that would have permitted the practice of buying drugs abroad has failed in previous legislative sessions.

O'Malley's proposal also calls for greater reliance on "purchasing pools" that allow pharmacies to buy drugs in bulk at a lower price and for expanding a city program that helps seniors transition to Medicare Part D coverage.

The proposal, first released at a "kitchen table talk" - one of a series of campaign events held in voters' homes around the state - carries few details for how the programs would be administered or funded.

"It takes more than a kitchen table talk and a sketchy position paper to make Maryland's health care system work. It takes dollars," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, a campaign spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "Governor Ehrlich has made health care more accessible and affordable ... through initiatives, not rhetoric."

The General Assembly approved and Ehrlich signed legislation in 2005 that would expand the number of low-income residents eligible for a state program that reduces the price of prescription drugs. But the state has not received a required approval from the federal government to proceed with that plan.

More than 80,000 Marylanders gained access to health care because of Ehrlich health care spending commitments, DeLeaver said.

O'Malley's campaign announcement came on the same day that the Maryland Public Interest Research Group released a study showing that the cost of nine prescription drugs increased more than the rate of inflation in Baltimore since 2004. The study also shows that uninsured city residents pay more than twice as much for their medication at local pharmacies than they would pay in Canada.

"This is a bad time to lack health insurance in America," said Johanna Neumann, an advocate with the organization. "Prescription drug costs are skyrocketing."

O'Malley did not attend the Bowie events yesterday; a campaign aide said the mayor was in New York. The campaign is expected to release a proposal today in Ellicott City that would address the cost of health insurance for small-business owners.

Brown worked the lunchtime crowd at the Bowie Town Center mall's food court and then shook hands at a nearby senior center, telling seniors there is no one solution to dealing with drug costs.

"It's quite a big drain," Frances Dimond, 70, said of her medication expenses. "Your retirement [income] just isn't that much."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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