HELENA — The House gave initial approval Thursday to a bill aimed at giving older state residents access to cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
The measure by Rep. Rick Maedje, R-Fortine, originally authorized residents to buy Canadian medicines through a state-run Web site, but was amended by Democrats to limit that privilege to licensed state pharmacies because of safety concerns.
"This assures that folks who are getting prescriptions get medicine that doesn't have an adverse reaction with other prescriptions they're currently taking," Rep. Mike Jopek, D-Whitefish, said.
Lawmakers endorsed the bill on a bipartisan 82-18 vote, referring it to the House Appropriations Committee for further review.
As part of its socialized medical system, the Canadian government sets most drug prices substantially lower than those charged in the United States. Cross-border sales have flourished in recent years, but Canadian health officials are considering a recent proposal to ban the practice out of ethical and safety concerns.
Reimporting drugs is technically illegal, but the laws are generally not enforced. Latest estimates show between 1 million and 2 million Americans get their drugs from Canada, with the average consumer saving 25 percent to 50 percent.
Under Maedje's bill, the Department of Public Health and Human Services would run the prescription drug Web site, endorsing only registered Canadian pharmacies inspected by the state's pharmacy board.
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