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Will Mainers Start to Import More Drugs in Light of Mainecare Cuts

A couple of news articles from the state of Maine have me wondering if more Mainers are going to start importing medication from international online pharmacies. Maine is the only state that has, through the passage of a law, removed state restrictions on personal drug importation from pharmacies in a number of countries.

An article from the Sun Journal highlights a survey designed to track the impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine (and perhaps these findings will apply to other states, too). Both low and middle-income Maine adults are struggling with medical bills. Surprisingly, 35% of middle-income adults had problems paying bills, compared to 32% of low-income adults. Budget cuts in the state have led to thousands of residents losing Medicaid coverage, so it is likely that the numbers will worsen for low-income adults.

Speaking of budget cuts, Maine Governor Paul LePage did not choose to expand another state program, Mainecare, which helps low-income residents pay healthcare providers. Samantha Edwards, writing for WLBZ, notes that residents who were in these programs are now looking elsewhere for assistance, especially for prescription drugs. The cuts to state programs are forcing municipalities to cover the costs. Rindy Folger, of Bangor Health and Community Services, said, “Since January 1st, we have seen over seventy-five people who we have never seen before who are now coming in looking for help with their medications…Monthly right now we are paying about $9,500 in prescriptions which, over the course of the year, is a significant amount of money for the Bangor taxpayers to have to pay.”

If municipalities like Bangor are going to be picking up the tab for medication, it might be wise for them (or the state) to implement prescription drug importation programs. Portland saved $200,000 a year on health care when it served prescriptions to its employees through PortlandMeds, a prescription drug importation program. It’s very possible – and reasonable – that more municipalities will implement these programs if the Maine’s healthcare cuts continue.

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Press Herald Poll Shows That 93% Support Maine Residents’ Right To Buy Medication From Canada

The City of Portland, Maine, is up in arms because the Maine Attorney General recently shutdown that city’s personal drug importation program, Portlandmeds, as reported by the Press Herald. Portlandmeds has saved the city $3.2 million over the past eight years, and is a clear example of a municipal drug importation program that has worked extremely well.

Public response has been critical of the ban. A Press Herald survey asked “Should Maine allow residents to purchased prescription drugs from Canada?” The response: 715 out of 769 – 93% –   voted yes.

Portland City Mayor Michael Brennan and other city officials expressed their grievances to 9 of 10 of Portland’s State lawmakers, asking them to back a bill allowing Maine residents to import medication from Canada as well as other countries. Mayor Brennan communicated that Maine’s governor, Paul LePage also supports the resumption of the drug importation program.

Opponents of personal drug importation are almost always funded by corporate interests seeking to protect their profits. The opposition in Maine is no exception. The Retail Association of Maine, which includes on its executive board employees of huge pharmacy chains Walgreens and Walmart, vehemently opposes Portlandmeds. As reported in the Press Herald, that association’s executive director’s communicated: “CanaRx is not licensed to do business in Maine…That makes it difficult to know exactly where the drugs are coming from, and possibly puts patients at risk.” CanaRx – the Canadian pharmacy dispensing medication for the Portlandmeds program, is duly licensed in Canada where the medication is just as safe as the medication sold in the United States. We don’t know of a single adverse health effect after eight years of the successful Portlandmeds program.

We know how much money personal drug importation can save Americans – safely – and wish the City of Portland luck in resuming its program.

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