In 2003 the state of Maine began offering employees covered by state healthcare the option of filling their prescriptions through CanaRx, a licensed Canadian pharmacy. This option saved the state about $3 million dollars in employee healthcare costs and also allowed covered employees to fill prescriptions with no copay. The program, called MaineMeds, was also used by some private employers and the city of Portland, resulting in considerable savings to employers and participants.
CanaRx program doesn’t just operate in the state of Maine. It has done business for many years in other states, Illinois, Vermont and Rhode Island, just to name a few. There is no evidence that what motivated the Pharmacy Board in the state of Maine to challenge the CanaRx’s ability to operate in that state had anything to do with health and safety. Yet, in September of 2012, the state’s Attorney General ruled that CanaRx could not be licensed by the state of Maine as an out of state supplier. This decision caused the MaineMeds program to be abruptly terminated.
The state legislature went to work, however, and in spite of the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying against it, lawmakers easily passed a bill which dropped the state’s restrictive licensing requirements in June. The new law is set to take effect in early in October, unless the lawsuit filed this week by the pharmaceutical and retail industries succeeds in preventing it from doing so.
On September 13th, 2013, Courthouse News Service reported that the Maine Pharmacy Association, the Maine Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the Retail Association of Maine, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Amelia Arnold, a Maine pharmacist, had joined in a lawsuit to prevent the law from taking effect. The main plaintiff in the case, Charles Ouellette owns four pharmacies in the state of Maine. The lawsuit claims that by allowing CanaRx to fill prescriptions, the state of Maine is risking the health and safety of the it’s residents, violating international trade laws and doing a host of other horrible things, none of which are true. In fact, Timothy Freeley, a spokesman for Maine’s Attorney General’s office states that “The new law simply removes the state licensing requirement. The law is permissive, not restrictive. There is nothing in this act which violates any other laws, and we believe that there are no grounds for the court to enjoin the law.”
It’s interesting to note that some of the “corporate sponsors” behind the groups listed on the suit include Rite-Aid, Walgreens, AstroZeneca, Merck and many other large “corporate sponsors”. While the suit accuses the state of endangering the well being of Maine’s residents, many of the companies involved in this lawsuit have a sordid history of their own.
In 2008 Walgreens “agreed to stop altering prescriptions without physician approval as part of a multi-state agreement to settle allegations of improper billing.” After being caught scamming medicaid, the company also agreed to pay $35 million dollars to federal and state agencies, as part of that settlement. In 2011 Walgreen’s practice of selling the medical information of customers to private marketing firms was exposed in California. Then in 2012 the company was sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, for again conspiring to overcharge Medicaid customers in a widespread scheme to substitute generic prescription drugs for more expensive name brand drugs. Most recently, in September 2012, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration suspended the company from shipping oxycodone and other controlled drugs from its Jupiter, Florida distribution center. Immediate suspension orders of this nature only occur when the DEA believes a registrant, such as a pharmacy or a doctor, is “an imminent danger to the public safety.”
AstroZeneca, which prides itself on being a “global biopharmaceutical company” has operations in Canada, and it’s headquarters are located in the UK. Yet, the lawsuit alleges that medications from those countries do not pass through the same inspection processes as medication produced in the US, a statement which is highly misleading. All of the medications supplied by the CanaRx program come from countries whose standards either meet or exceed US safety standards. Those include Australia, Canada, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and the UK. You’d think a “global biopharmaceutical company” doing business in those same nations would be aware of that. AstroZeneca hasn’t tried to hide its role in the lawsuit. In fact, the company has a page dedicated to the Maine suit on their azhealthconnections.com blog.
Maybe the most interesting party to this suit is the Retail Association of Maine. The organizations web-site clearly defines it as a lobbyist organization for retailers. A quick glance at the section titled “Legislative Affairs” highlighted on their web-site shows that it’s a typical right-wing think tank that fights against fair labor practices, workers rights, equal pay and regulation of businesses – except in this case. In this case they are clearly against the state eliminating regulations that allow for free market competition. The Retail Association of Maine does not disclose its funding sources nor it’s members, but states that it’s clients range from small businesses to multi-national corporations. Surprise.
Odd since the suit is supposedly about consumer health and safety, and doesn’t mention a single word about profits.
In all likelihood this lawsuit will probably be dismissed, mainly due to the fact that the allegations laid out in the 23 page filing are untrue. Here’s a short video from the MaineMeds program web-site, which gives a much clearer picture of what the retail and pharmaceutical industries are really outraged about: