HCPF “will not be impeded” — Bimestefer on threat of PhRMA litigation

Colorado is proceeding resolutely with its pursuit of affordable prescription drugs, with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF)’s recent solicitation positioning it to become the first state in the country to import drugs from Canada. Kim Bimestefer, the Executive Director of HCPF, says the state refuses to be hindered by pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to stop the program.

“Drug manufacturers are charging this country far more than they are other countries,” Bimestefer said. “So we are not surprised at all that PhRMA would want to stop this because they would like to continue to charge these enormous prices, and we would like to find many alternatives to stop the overcharging of Coloradans.”

Several pharmaceutical companies sued the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November of last year over their decision to permit the import of prescription drugs into Colorado from Canada. The federal government’s decision came after the passage of SB19-005 in 2019 allowed Colorado to request their permission to establish the program.

The companies argue that the ruling violates the law requiring FDA to evaluate the safety and authenticity of prescription drugs. They claim that the safety of the imported drugs would be uncertain, since they would only be evaluated at the state level and would not be subject to FDA oversight.

“We will not be impeded or slowed down because PhRMA files this lawsuit, or another lawsuit. We will keep pursuing alternatives boldly, with the right intentions, to save Coloradans money on health care,” Bimestefer said.

On Monday, HCPF sent an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) to Canadian providers as the next step in its mission to import cheaper drugs to Colorado. Bimestefer says using an ITN rather than a traditional Request for Proposal allows for more flexibility and communication between the state and interested parties in Canada.

“[The ITN] invites potential vendor partners to bid, bringing to the table their creativity, their strengths, their innovative methodologies — so we’re open to finalizing how we submit this based on their ingenuity,” she said.”

Bids from interested Canadian providers are due on April 26. From there, HCPF will work with these providers to create contracts, which they will then submit to the federal government, Bimestefer said. The department anticipates an official program coming to fruition around the end of the year.

Colorado has been working with Vermont, Maine and Florida to develop programs for importing cheaper drugs from Canada. Bimestefer said the states have been in close cooperation for months.

This coalition’s endeavors, however, are not limited to Canada. Bimestefer referred to a nascent bill outlined in HCPF’s recent prescription drug price reduction report which would allow the U.S. to trade with countries other than Canada who also have lower prescription drug costs.

“We’re pursuing several causeways,” she said. ‘One is the importation from Canada. But parallel to that, we did an entire importation report. There’s a section on importation in the appendix of the report which showed a comparison of the prices in Colorado, Canada, France and Australia. There’s a potential bill in the making for this session that would allow Colorado to parallel the fed, should the fed open up importation to other countries in the same way it has Canada.”

This would be a renewed effort at passing SB 119, which the report said had significant support last session.