Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago) were joined in Chicago today by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle to launch the new I-SaveRx prescription drug importation program -- the first program in the nation to allow citizens to purchase lower cost, safe prescription drugs from Europe and Canada.
Wisconsin is joining the new program developed by Illinois, providing approximately 18 million residents in the two states with access to lower-priced prescription drugs through a network of 45 inspected and approved pharmacies and wholesalers in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Consumers in Wisconsin and Illinois can lookup I-SaveRx prices and start the enrollment process by calling toll-free 1-866-ISAVE33, or visiting www.I-SaveRx.net.
“Today, we are here to announce two things: First, beginning immediately, our prescription drug program, called I-Save Rx, is now open for business. Anyone who lives in Illinois can start saving money on their prescription drugs today. And second, I am delighted to announce that, thanks to the leadership of Governor Jim Doyle, the State Wisconsin is now joining our program,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “So now, the nearly 13 million people who live in Illinois, and the more than 5 million people who live in Wisconsin, will have the opportunity to save hundreds – and in some cases even thousands – of dollars each year on the high cost of their medicine. It means our seniors will no longer have to spend more money than they have just to afford the medicine they need.”
“There's no reason why our citizens should have to pay twice as much for safe prescription medicines as the rest of the world, but that's exactly the situation we're in because the federal government refuses to take on the drug companies,” Gov. Doyle said. “This initiative gives our citizens another option. The system relies only on pharmacies that have passed a rigorous inspection by Illinois - and verified by Wisconsin. It offers people both safety and savings, and we hope our citizens will take advantage of that.”
“Illinois and Wisconsin are leading the nation in providing their citizens with access to safe, affordable prescription drugs and saving taxpayers millions of dollars. This is a prairie fire that is building across America,” said Congressman Rahm Emanuel.
Gov. Blagojevich called on other states to join the program and expand options for people across the country who can’t afford their medications. He mailed letters and program information today to all forty-eight other governors.
Representatives from the 1.6 million-member AARP Illinois stood with the governors today to show the organization’s support for the I-SaveRx program. The AARP has been a vocal advocate at the national level for legislation allowing the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other developed countries.
“We commend the Governor for his efforts. AARP is keenly aware that millions of our members are now engaged in importation of prescription drugs from abroad. The argument over safety concerns only makes more imperative the need to monitor this activity and establish procedures and protocol. Governor Blagojevich’s importation initiative, along with currently available programs, will give older Illinoisans some relief from the high costs of prescription drugs,” said Ralph Yaniz, State Director of the AARP Illinois.
Under the I-SaveRx plan launched today, participants can save an average of 25 to 50 percent on the cost of the most common medications used to treat chronic conditions. For instance, a threemonth supply of the drug Lipitor in 20 mg doses, which is used to treat high cholesterol, costs an average of $282 in the United States; but is available through I-SaveRx for $180 from Ireland, $202 from the United Kingdom, and $210 from Canada, plus the $15 per order shipping charge. A three-month supply of Celebrex in 100 mg doses, used to treat arthritis pain, costs $213 in the U.S.; but only $101 in Ireland, $102 in the U.K., and $79 in Canada, plus shipping.
A number of states, including Wisconsin, have given citizens the opportunity to save by launching websites that link users directly to mail-order pharmacies in Canada. Wisconsin’s program, launched in February 2004, at www.drugsavings.wi.gov, includes links to three Canadian pharmacies that offer significant savings to citizens.
The new I-SaveRx program is the first to establish a network of pharmacies that includes facilities across the Atlantic. The I-SaveRx program has extensive safeguards built-in and includes thorough oversight of network pharmacies.
T he new program connects users to the I-SaveRx clearinghouse, administered by CanaRx, through the website or toll-free telephone number. The clearinghouse provides users with information on the list of medications included in the program, prices in each of the three countries and enrollment forms and guidance. Consumers can enjoy one-stop shopping rather than contacting numerous pharmacies to gather information and compare prices.
Before ordering, new enrollees must mail or have their doctor fax a completed health profile form and signed prescription to the clearinghouse. Once the clearinghouse has received the prescription and health profile form, it will conduct an initial scan for appropriateness using the same drug interaction software used in Illinois pharmacies. If the prescription passes the interaction test, it will then be turned over to a network physician in the country from which the medication will be dispensed, who will review and re-write the prescription for a local network pharmacy. The pharmacy will perform a final safety check to comply with local laws and regulations before dispensing the medication.
The I-SaveRx import program builds-in numerous safety measures to ensure the quality and safety of drugs dispensed. The list of available drugs is limited to those that are used for long periods of time, and that cannot spoil during the shipping process. Consumers can order eligible drugs for re-fill only, so patients and their doctors have had time to review for unanticipated side-effects or interactions. All network pharmacies agree to comply with Illinois pharmaceutical standards, and to only dispense drugs that are intended as domestic product in Canada, Ireland or the U.K. – meaning the pharmacies cannot dispense prescription drugs from other countries that are not part of the program to I-SaveRx consumers.
While all residents of Illinois and Wisconsin are eligible to enroll in I-SaveRx, the states are focusing their promotional efforts on reaching people who do not have prescription drug coverage – estimated at more than 4 million individuals in the two states combined. Of that total, older citizens have the greatest need for relief. According to the Center for Policy Alternatives, one out of every five senior citizens takes at least five prescription medications daily. Last year, the prices of the thirty prescription drugs used most by senior citizens rose more than four times faster than the rate of inflation, according to Families USA.
This week Gov. Blagojevich will launch an aggressive outreach campaign in Illinois targeted at educating seniors about the new I-SaveRx program. He will visit a dozen senior centers throughout the state this week, and continue the campaign over the next three months. In addition, the Departments of Aging and Public Health will reach out to seniors and physicians throughout the state to spread information about the program and enrollment procedures.
Today’s launch is the culmination of a year of research and work. Last fall, the Governor sent a team of experts to Canada to study the impact of importing prescription drugs from that country. The group reported that importing prescription drugs from Canada is not only safe, but in some cases, even safer than purchasing prescription drugs here in the United States. The Governor and his experts then traveled to Washington, D.C. to share the results of their study with other experts and leaders around the country, and met with members of Congress and officials from the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.
In December, Congressman Emanuel joined Governor Blagojevich in asking the federal government for a special waiver to launch a pilot program to import prescription drugs from Canada. After weeks of waiting for a response, the Governor helped organize a class action lawsuit to give senior citizens across the nation, the same opportunities that senior citizens in states that border Canada have to purchase cheaper prescription drugs.
In May, Gov. Blagojevich dispatched a delegation made up of members of his staff, the Office of Special Advocates for Prescription Drugs and the Departments of Public Health and Professional Regulation to research whether Illinois could look to Europe for safe and affordable prescription drugs.
The Illinois delegation met with representatives from governments, pharmacies, wholesalers, parallel importers, health and insurance funds, and professional and trade associations in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. They methodically assessed pharmacy practices, manufacturing practices, warehousing and storage, and distribution and dispensing processes and compared them with Illinois standards and practices. The delegation concluded that Illinois could establish a network of foreign pharmacies that would meet state standards and provide safe medications at much lower prices.
In August, the Governor released the report of the European study, the findings of which closely mirror those of the Canadian study. The experts found that Illinois consumers could save money by buying their medications from European pharmacies, and could obtain safe prescription drugs equivalent in every way to the medications they purchase in the U.S.
The I-SaveRx plan creators used the findings from both the Canadian and European reports to design a system that helps Illinois and Wisconsin residents obtain prescription drugs at significant discounts from safe, regulated sources abroad.