Plan to get isle seniors cheaper meds fails


POSTED: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hawaii's attempt to save seniors money by shipping cheap prescription drugs from Canada never got off the ground, a casualty of politics and unprofitability.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's administration refused to implement the law, which was passed last year when the state's majority Democratic Legislature overrode her veto. The Canadian drug supplier later dropped out of the importing program.

“;The tragedy would have been if the supplier and program stayed intact without the governor even trying to explore ways to help our people,”; state Sen. Roz Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said last week. “;But it doesn't help to beat a dead horse at this point.”;

Hawaii was the sixth state to enroll in the program called I-SaveRx, which would have shipped drugs from overseas suppliers to island mailboxes. The other states were Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas and Vermont.

Lingle's administration didn't act on the law because of fears that it's illegal. Federal law prohibits foreign drug imports, although that law hasn't always been enforced.

“;While the state has every interest in helping residents access prescription medications, the state has a responsibility to protect its residents and operate in a legal manner,”; according to a December report from the Department of Human Services to the Legislature.

The Department of Human Services referred phone calls seeking additional comment to the Attorney General's Office, which didn't return a message left yesterday.

“;The law passed, and we kept asking, 'Why aren't you doing it?' but we got no response,”; said Laura Manis, legislative chairwoman for Kokua Council, a citizens advocacy group.

The I-SaveRx service operated for four years before its Canadian supplier, Pegasus Health Services Ltd. of Calgary, Alberta, withdrew in January because it wasn't making money.

The company blamed the states for failing to enroll enough people. Only 5,000 people from Illinois had signed up, and the four partner states had contributed only about 1,600 more.

The program was meant to benefit seniors who couldn't afford expensive brand-name prescription drugs, even with help from Medicare.

Hawaii had the highest share in the nation—36 percent—of Medicare prescription drug enrollees who fall into a coverage gap forcing them to pay all their drug costs as well as premiums, according to 2007 data from the AARP.