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The Associated Press April 14, 2010, 2:44PM ET

VA shoots down Montana gov's plan for cheap drugs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday that it can't sell the state of Montana the cheaper medicine it gets from the pharmaceutical industry, rejecting a request made last week by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Schweitzer wanted the VA to resell to Montana pharmacies the medicine that the federal agency gets at a discount directly from the drug makers. The governor, intent on making a point about the cost of medicine, plans to keep pushing the issue.

But the VA said current federal law would prevents it from participating in the governor's request. The agency is restricted from redistributing the medicine to anyone other than veterans.

"While Governor Schweitzer has proposed a creative approach to bring down pharmaceutical costs, under current federal law, the Department of Veterans Affairs could not participate in the proposed plan," said VA spokesman Paul Sherbo.

The governor has also recently asked federal permission to import cheaper drugs from Canada.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not officially responded to that separate request.

But CMS has indicated the request could be problematic, in part because it does not believe agency heads have the authority to certify the Canadian drugs for sale in the United States.

Even though his requests appear to be hitting roadblocks, Schweitzer said he will continue to make the point that other countries negotiate far better prices for medicine than the United States. Schweitzer blamed Congress, which recently overhauled health care, for preventing the negotiation with the pharmaceutical industry through Medicare -- a federal program administered and jointly paid for by the states.

"We hope daily that they would recognize that we have to challenge the underlying costs of health care if we are going to be able to deliver affordable, accessible health care to Americans. And increasingly, health care means prescription drugs," Schweitzer said. "We are looking for realistic solutions, which is allowing states and state agencies and individual pharmacies to buy the world class medicine at a world price."

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