Governor Schweitzer Hasn’t Sent Documentation for Drug Waiver

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer last month asked the federal government for permission to import lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada for Medicaid patients, but his administration acknowledges it has not submitted any documentation to support the request.

The governor wrote a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius on March 11, asking that her agency grant Montana a “Medicaid waiver” with regard to Canadian drugs.

“We have to work through the secretary’s office,” said Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. “There is not another state that has requested this. We think the governor is forging a new path.”

A spokeswoman for the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services in Washington, D.C., said requests for waivers are usually accompanied by extensive documentation explaining how the waiver will provide the same or better service at lower cost.

“A simple letter to the secretary is not a formal waiver request,” said Mary Kahn. “We have forms that ask specific information, (such as) how you would plan to run it, how it would be cost neutral.”

Kahn also said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a division of Health and Human Services, has jurisdiction over whether certain drugs can be imported to the United States.

The FDA declined comment when contacted by the Lee Newspapers state bureau.

Sorrell said her office is waiting to hear back from Sebelius’ office on the governor’s request.

Kahn said last week that the governor’s letter is “under consideration” and that no formal decision has been made.

Schweitzer is seeking the waiver to import lower-priced Canadian drugs for Montanans in the correctional system, and those covered by Medicaid, the Healthy Montana Kids Program and the state employee health plan. Schweitzer estimated the move could save the state about $40 million a year on its $100 million in drug costs for the four programs.