Schweitzer’s New Idea for Cheaper Medicine: the VA

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Wednesday that he has a new idea to get cheaper medicine for Montana — but it would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to directly undercut the pharmaceutical industry.

Schweitzer sent the VA a letter asking it to resell to Montana pharmacies the medicine that Schweitzer says the federal agency gets at a steep discount directly from the pharmaceutical industry.

“Why doesn’t the VA, who has already negotiated that good price with the pharmaceuticals, why don’t they agree to wholesale to pharmacists around Montana with a 20 percent markup?” Schwietzer said.

The governor said the price would still be far lower than what the pharmacies currently have to pay.

The VA could not be reached for comment late Wednesday to comment on whether it has authority to resell those drugs.

The governor has also recently asked federal permission to import cheaper drugs from Canada. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not yet responded to that separate request.

The governor, who doesn’t know if either plan will ultimately succeed, said he thought he would try the new approach while he awaits on word from the CMMS.

“Maybe the best result is maybe the pharmaceuticals just see the light and say ‘Why don’t we sell it to Montanans for the same lower price we sell to others,'” Schweitzer said. “It seems like we are surrounded by people who get a good price, and we get a bad price.”

Schweitzer said he has not yet tried to approach President Barack Obama directly about the issue. The governor said it makes sense to first try with his cabinet appointees.

Schweitzer, also a Democrat, has been generally supportive of many aspects of the recent health care reform but said he doesn’t think it does much to lower prescription drug costs.