CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A proposal to import prescription drugs from Canada to New Hampshire attracted bipartisan support at the Statehouse on Tuesday, winning praise from both the Democrat sponsoring the bill and the Republican he wants to replace in the corner office.
Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, told the Senate Commerce Committee that New Hampshire residents struggling with some of the nation’s highest prescription drug costs are too often choosing between their health and their financial security. In a 2017 survey, roughly a fifth of residents with prescriptions stopped taking them at some point during the year because they couldn’t afford them, he said.
“That’s not right. That’s not fair, and SB 685 will help,” said Feltes, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
Immediately following Feltes at the public hearing was Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who is seeking a third term in November.
He praised not just Feltes’ bill but others before the committee aimed at increasing the transparency and oversight of prescription drug.
“I don’t testify on bills often, but ones I think everyone can get on board with and make a very severe impact of a positive nature for the state, it just presents opportunity,” he said.
If the bill passes, New Hampshire would follow Maine, Vermont and other states that have passed legislation to set up importation programs with Canada. And in December, the Trump administration unveiled a proposed regulation that would allow states to import many brand name drugs from Canada, with federal oversight. A second draft plan would let pharmaceutical companies seek approval to import their own drugs, from any country.
Patients are unlikely to see quick relief on prices, however, and Canadian officials have also raised questions, saying their country’s prescription drug market is too small to have any real impact on U.S. prices.
John Adams, chairman of the Best Medicines Coalition, traveled from Toronto to New Hampshire to oppose the bill. He said that while Canadians consider Americans friends and neighbors, the patient organizations his group represents don’t look kindly on such proposals. He said such importation plans hurt Canadians who already face drug shortages.
“We would love to help. We can help with ideas and experiences, but we cannot help with supply,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a good friend to say you’re dealing with a bad idea here.”
A regional official with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America also opposed the bill, saying any savings likely would be offset by the state’s significant start-up and operational costs of such a program. But most of those testifying were in support of the bill, including residents who described their personal problems affording medication.
Leah Stagnone, 23, said that medication for multiple chronic conditions costs her several hundred dollars each month, and that she has chosen to not fill some prescriptions specialists recommended because of cost.
“I want to be independent, I want to build savings, and right now with my current health care costs, it’s really hard to imagine that being possible in the near future,” she said.
Krista Gilbert, vice president of the New Hampshire Rare Disorders Association, said she has gone as long as two weeks without some of her medication because she couldn’t afford it, resulting in increased pain, fatigue and difficulty walking, sleeping and breathing. When the EpiPen she was prescribed for a severe allergy expired, she did not buy another because of the expense.
“It’s a calculated risk,” she said. “My quality of life would be greater if I could take my medication as prescribed by my providers.”