WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the Hall of States, the Washington base for the nation’s Governors, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich today announced legal action that could force the FDA to promulgate rules allowing states and individuals to import drugs from Canada where they cost up to 80% less. The Governor joined Ray and Gaylee Andrews, of suburban Chicago, and their attorney, Robert A. Clifford, after the couple became the first plaintiffs in a major federal class action lawsuit filed today in D.C. federal district court against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration.
“The primary job of government is to protect the health and safety of the people. We are not here to protect the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry. We are not here to do the bidding of an army of lobbyists. We are here to serve the people,” the Governor said. “And under the U.S. Constitution – and its separation of powers clause – the courts are here to step in when necessary to make sure our government does what it’s supposed to do.”
“If this lawsuit succeeds, the State of Illinois can go ahead and import prescription drugs from Canada. It means the State of Minnesota can go ahead and import prescription drugs from Canada. It means the City of Springfield, Massachusetts, can go ahead and import prescription drugs from Canada. It means Ray and Gaylee Andrews can buy their prescription drugs from Canada, and never have to worry about being prosecuted by the FDA for it.”
While drug manufacturers are allowed to import drugs from other countries, federal law prohibits individuals, businesses and governments from doing the same.
“We are talking about the health and welfare of these people and thousands of others who should be allowed to choose where to buy their prescriptions,” Clifford said. “Many of the elderly are on fixed incomes and simply can’t afford the spiraling costs of medicine, and they are offered no alternatives.”
The Andrews, who currently spend as much as $800 a month on medicine, would save an average of 43 percent on the seven brand-name drugs prescribed by their doctors. The class action suit asserts that the federal law violates their 5th Amendment right to privacy by denying them freedom to make personal medical decisions; improperly gives legislative authority to the executive branch by letting the Secretary of Health and Human Services decide if and when importation should be legal; and is enforced in a way that disproportionately impacts seniors in non-border states who do not have the option of driving across the border to buy less expensive medications, as has been permitted by the FDA.
Gov. Blagojevich has been working aggressively to obtain federal permission to allow the State of Illinois to import drugs from Canada. A study he commissioned last fall found the state and its employees could save as much as $91 million by buying certain name-brand drugs used to treat long-term conditions from Canadian pharmacies. He then asked HHS Secretary Thompson to issue the state a waiver to proceed as a pilot project. The Governor believes Illinois could demonstrate how drug importation can be done safely and, ultimately, how the benefits could be expanded to seniors and other consumers.
Earlier this week, Blagojevich hosted a summit for the nation’s governors in Washington, D.C. on the drug reimportation issue. He was joined by governors and members of Congress from both parties in calling on the FDA and Sec. Thompson to reverse the federal policy on drug importation.
To date, HHS Sec. Thompson and the FDA have refused to work with states to develop solutions to the growing problem of high drug costs.
In light of their inaction, Blagojevich is encouraging the Andrews and others in similar circumstances to join the class-action and force a change in the law.