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Illinois' Rx program illegal, inadequate: Audit


SPRINGFIELD, Ill.--A program to reimport prescription drugs from lower-cost foreign pharmacies that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich intends to expand to cover state workers is being criticized as both illegal and inadequate.

An audit by the Illinois auditor general, William Holland, found that the I-SaveRx program, which the governor spent nearly $1 million to promote, has served fewer than 3,700 of the state's residents.

Gov. Blagojevich launched the I-SaveRx program in October 2004 despite federal law prohibiting such a practice. The program, which involves reimportation of drugs from pharmacies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, later was expanded to residents in four other states. The program is intended for senior citizens and the uninsured and currently is available in Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri and Vermont.

In its first 19 months of operation, the I-SaveRx promotional effort cost the state approximately $488,000 in wages, $111,000 in travel expenses, $71,000 in contractual services, $54,000 in marketing costs and $220,000 on legal fees, according to the audit. The promotional effort involved 521 state employees and encompassed 28 state agencies, the audit reported. And even though the program was in violation of federal law, at least 26 of the workers who participated in the promotion were paid from federal funds, the audit said.

Despite this significant investment, the program served only 3,689 Illinois residents and 1,265 individuals in the other four states, the audit found.

In anticipation of the audit findings, Gov. Blagojevich issued a press release vowing to not only continue the program, but also to expand it to include state employees. The release said the program's expansion would allow the state to reduce its annual prescription drug costs and reduce, and in some cases even eliminate, copayments for state employees and dependents. Copayments on brand-name prescription drugs for those covered by the state's health insurance program currently range from $20 to $80 per prescription. The expanded program for employees would be voluntary, the release said.

The governor also sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration Acting Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach that said: "No governor and no administration wants to incur audit findings saying that they are operating a program in violation of federal law. But when the choice is helping people afford the medicine they need or incurring audit findings, there's really no choice. Please understand that while we will do everything in our power to implement some of the Auditor General's recommendations, we will not cease operation of the I-SaveRx program."