HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday that he is still moving forward with his effort to import cheaper medicine from Canada, despite promises made in the national health care reform recently passed by fellow Democrats.
Schweitzer said the health care reform does far less than critics allege and supporters claim, and that he suspects that prescription drugs will still be too expensive.
"This is a good bill, a good start," Schweitzer said. "But what they didn't do is challenge the pharmaceutical lobby, the medical lobby, and the medical device-manufacturing lobby because they are too just powerful."
The governor recently asked federal permission to import cheaper drugs from Canada. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it has received the governor's request for a waiver and is working on a formal response.
He estimates the move could chop 40 percent off the $100 million the state spends each year on prescription drugs for Medicaid, the children's health insurance program, state employees, and inmates at the prison.
Schweitzer said health care reform does nothing to address those costs, so he will continue his fight for cheaper medicine.
"It is not really about just importing the medicine from Canada. It is that I would like to negotiate the medicine at the Canadian price," Schweitzer said. "If they can deliver a pill to Calgary for 50 cents and that pill was made in the U.S., they can sure as heck sell it here for 50 cents."
By making a high-profile point, the governor hopes to improve a negotiating position over drug prices.
"It's not about the pill, it's about the politics," Schweitzer said.
While the governor contends that Congress gave the health and human services secretary permission to allow importation, the CMMS has said it believes that only the Food and Drug Administration can authenticate a drug's safety.
Schweitzer said he thinks the health care overhaul has done a good job of forcing insurers to be more fair and has helped more lower-income people get on a government insurance plan. In all, he said the system has become better at providing health care to the old, the young, the poor and groups of people like veterans.
"This is the biggest gain in health care in a while, but the job is not done," Schweitzer said. "And I don't think there is anyone in Washington, D.C., that says it is. I think that is the one thing Republicans and Democrats agree on."