Prescription-drug policy and the councilman
When there's no money, there's no money.
That's why the conversation Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen has started about whether the city should start a voluntary Canadian prescription program for employees should be welcomed here and at the national level. Seattle is not the first local government to consider the savings potential for itself and its employees, and it surely won't be the last. Canadian drug prices can be 30- to 80-percent lower than in the United States.
The chairman of the council's Housing, Human Services and Health Committee is trying to reduce the expected 12-percent increase in the city's $80 million employee health-care costs.
If Seattle began a Canadian prescription-drug program, city staff estimates savings of as much as $1.3 million for the city and up to $250,000 for employee copayments. Rasmussen points out that $1 million in savings is roughly equivalent to 12 police officers, 15 firefighters or 50 homeless-shelter beds every night for a year.
Pharmaceutical companies argue against the practice, saying it will cut into the industry's money that pays for research into new drugs and that the imported drugs might be unsafe. Food and Drug Administration officials say such programs are illegal, but no enforcement actions have been taken.
Although Rasmussen's goal is savings for the city, he's happy to fan the national debate over the international drug-pricing disparity. After 10 years of working with people who are elderly and disabled, he knows some low-income seniors must choose between their medicine and food or heating.
He also has an elderly relative who orders Canadian drugs and who expects to see little, if any, benefit from the new Medicare prescription-drug plan.
If Seattle can be a part of efforts to drag the national debate off its lofty rhetorical plane and back down to Earth, so much the better.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company