An HHS spokesman says HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson is expected to deny a request from the state of Illinois to create a pilot project to buy prescription drugs from Canada for state employees and senior citizens.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sent a letter on Monday to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson outlining his proposal for a pilot program covering senior citizens and state employees.
Spokesperson Bill Pierce says Thompson may take a few weeks to answer the letter -- but his answer would have to be no.
Thompson's hands are tied by the recently enacted Medicare reform law, Pierce says.
While Blagojevich argues that the new law allows for a state pilot project, Pierce says the law only gives Thompson the authority to allow individuals -- not states -- to reimport drugs for Canada, and only if Thompson certifies the drug as being safe for reimportation.
Blagojevich insists drugs from Canada are safe, but Pierce argues that HHS, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, cannot certify beyond a doubt that Canadian drugs are safe because Canadian officials use different criteria.
"They have good standards but they are not ours," Pierce says. "We cannot enforce the laws of any other country, even if they may be wonderful laws."
Meanwhile, Pierce says the Medicare law provides other forms of relief, such as lower prices for drugs than an individual would pay on his own. He says the law will also bar extensions of patents, which will cut costs by billions of dollars.
While several local governments have announced plans to reimport drugs from Canada, Pierce says none of them have been prosecuted.
Only the city of Springfield, Mass., has implemented them so far, and "you cannot prosecute anyone who hasn't broken the law," he says.
Aides for Blagojevich did not respond to a request for comment of Pierce's remarks.