Vermont seeks meeting with feds to talk drug importation

August 15, 2019 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s Gov. Phil Scott is asking for a meeting with federal officials to discuss the details of a Trump Administration plan that would allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada as a way to save money on expensive drugs.

In a Tuesday letter to Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar that was released Thursday, Scott, a Republican, said state officials were eager to learn more so the state can submit its drug importation plan to the federal government for approval by July 1 of next year.

The meeting would come as state officials, who are working with counterparts in Colorado, Florida and Maine, which have passed similar laws, to develop importation proposals while learning the details of how the drug importation plan would be implemented and administered.


It’s unclear how much money would be saved under the plan Vermont is developing because federal law restricts which drugs can be imported. Under current law insulin, a common and expensive drug used to treat diabetes, is not eligible for importation from Canada.

“These parameters mean that some of the highest cost drugs that are driving health care premium increases in our system may not be candidates for importation from Canada,” Vermont Health Care Reform Director Ena Backus said during a Thursday briefing for reporters.

But while some drugs would not be available for import, others would be and there is a “strong case to try to see if insulin” can be added to the drugs that can be imported, Backus said.

An analysis by Vermont officials found the importation program would not save much money for the Medicaid system because of minimal copays for users and existing drug rebate programs. It was originally estimated that for the state’s two largest commercial insurers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care, would save between $1 million and $5 million, but that was before officials realized the federal law does not allow for the importation of insulin. The analysis also did not include data from a third private insurance company that covers a significant number of Vermonters, which, if included, would increase the savings.

Backus said that for a drug importation program to succeed it would require an ongoing assessment of which drugs are eligible for importation.

“This was a first-cut analysis to understand if any savings were possible,” she said.

Nevertheless, Vermont is now working with Florida, Colorado and Maine to prepare proposals that will be submitted to the federal government by July 1 next year in hopes of winning permission to begin drug importation.

Backus did not know how soon it would be before Vermonters might be able to see lower prescription drug costs through the importation program, but the new federal program means it could be sooner than if the state tried to do it on its own.