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Slow Start for Illinois-Canada Drug Plan

Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (UPI photo)


Springfield, Ill. – Aides to Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich say they're not alarmed that a new drug-importation program is off to a slow start.

Only 1,200 people have signed up in the first two months of I-Save-RX. The program helps people import prescription drugs from Europe and Canada. Missouri also recently joined the I-Save-RX program, and Wisconsin is part of it as well.

The 1,206 enrollees if out of a target audience of about 5 million in the three states.

But advocates for senior citizens, who make up the bulk of that group, say caution has kept participation down. "A lot of the seniors are scared of it, particularly now when there are so many drug recalls," said Carol Davis, a spokeswoman for Senior Services of Central Illinois in Springfield.

Some seniors may be waiting to see what level of drug coverage will be available through Medicare before trying drug imports, said Keri Burton, program planner for the Central Illinois Agency on Aging.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes the reimporting of prescription drugs, saying it can't guarantee the safety of drugs sold through foreign pharmacies. But it hasn't shut down I-SaveRx or other states' programs connecting residents to pharmacies in Canada. Illinois' is the first state-sponsored program to connect residents to European pharmacies.

Blagojevich claims I-SaveRx can save seniors as much as 50% on the prescription drugs. It works through a Canada-based clearinghouse to connect buyers to pharmacies and wholesalers in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada. In those countries, government price controls keep some drug costs lower than in the United States.

The pharmacies and wholesalers involved have been approved by Illinois health inspectors, only refills are allowed, and narcotics are excluded.

The governor and others in his administration have traveled the state to promote the program. The state also plans to send enrollment forms to seniors in eligible income brackets.

"The numbers have been increasing every week," said governor's spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff. "We're the first to do this, so there is nothing to measure it against."

As of Friday, 1,206 people had completed enrollment forms with orders, while a total of 29,406 forms had been requested or downloaded from the program's Web site.

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