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Senate passes prescription drug import bill

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A bill that could pave the way for New Mexico to start importing prescription drugs from Canada is heading to the state House.

The Senate voted 35-0 Tuesday to approve the legislation, Senate Bill 1, which is aimed at making medication more accessible for New Mexico residents.

“Too many New Mexico families can’t afford medication. Too many families either skip filling their prescriptions or ration the medicine they have,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement after the Senate voted on the bill.

“This is unacceptable,” she added. “And so I am thrilled that we are one step closer to meaningfully cutting prescription drug costs for New Mexico families.”

While the bill passed the Senate without opposition, some members raised concern about how it would work – and whether it would deliver results.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, questioned whether Canada would be able to supply New Mexico and other interested states with prescription drugs, pointing out that some states spend more than Canada on such medication.

“Even if we open the Canadian market up, it may not particularly help with the availability of (prescription) drugs in the United States,” Neville said.

New Mexico is one of several states, including Florida, Colorado and Maine, seeking to take advantage of a new federal rule authorizing states to pursue wholesale drug importation programs.

Under the bill, the state Department of Health would be authorized to craft an implementation plan and apply for federal approval to import wholesale drugs from Canada. A total of $350,000 would be appropriated for the initial costs.

Certain types of drugs, including opioids, would not be eligible for importation, and those imported would not be covered by Medicaid, backers said.

They also pointed out drug prices are much higher in the United States than in other countries. In 2017, about 25% of New Mexico adults on prescription drugs stopped taking their medication due to high costs, according to the AARP.

“This is just leveling the playing field,” Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said during Tuesday’s debate. “There’s no risk.”

If the bill is approved and signed into law, the state will have to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and possibly other federal agencies.

The measure now advances to the House of Representatives with just over two weeks left in the 30-day legislative session.

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