AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul Le-Page wants to find a way to allow a Canadian company that sells mail-order prescription drugs at deep discounts to resume operations in Maine, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

CanaRx suspended operations in Maine on Aug. 17 after Attorney General William Schneider notified the company that it was violating state law because it is not licensed in Maine.

CanaRx had supplied medications to Portland city employees and Hardwood Products Co. of Guilford for eight years, and began providing prescriptions to state employees earlier this year. In all, it supplied 1,200 households.

LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor is unhappy that CanaRx has stopped doing business in Maine.

“The governor respects the attorney general’s opinion,” Bennett said. “He’s unhappy with the outcome.”

Calls to the Attorney General’s Office were not returned Tuesday.

The CanaRx program for state employees, called MaineMeds, was expected to save the state more than $3 million a year. CanaRx provides brand-name maintenance medications at discounts of about 50 percent, said Chris Collins, senior program director for the company.

“This appears to be a win-win for everyone,” Bennett said of the program. “We have multiple parties looking to find some common ground on this, and I think it would be in the best interest of Mainers and the state to explore this further and figure out how we can come to a resolution.”

Bennett said it is premature to discuss how the situation might be resolved but said her office will look into the issue further as the legislative session, which begins in January, approaches. She said that while savings are important, safety is a priority.

The Maine Merchants Association, a trade group that represents chain and independent pharmacies, brought MaineMeds to the attention of the state Board of Pharmacy in May. The association cited the company’s lack of license, unfair competition and the potential for public safety concerns.

The pharmacy board found that it didn’t have the authority to license mail-order pharmacies outside the United States and referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation. Schneider agreed with the board and notified CanaRx in June that it was violating state law.

The Maine State Employees Association said Tuesday that it looks forward to working with LePage and other elected officials so the company can resume deliveries in Maine. State Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, plans to propose legislation to make it possible for CanaRx to do business here again.

“Together, we can get CanaRx back in service in Maine,” said MSEA President Ginette Rivard in a prepared statement.

Portland officials expected that the city would save $200,000 and that its participating employees would save another $200,000 this year. City employees had no co-pays for medications through the program, called Portland Meds. About 220 employees used the program.

Nexium, a brand-name medication for gastroesophageal reflux disease, is among the common drugs that employers look at when evaluating health insurance programs. Under the CanaRx program, a three-month supply of 40-milligram pills would cost the city $840. Under Aetna, which administers the city’s insurance program, the cost would be $525 to the employee and $1,575 to the city.

“If you look at the numbers, it was clear by utilizing the CanaRx program, there were both savings for the city — and the taxpayer — and for the employee,” said Nicole Clegg, a city spokeswoman.

Coreena Behnke, a Portland police officer, is researching her options for when her prescriptions from CanaRx run out. Behnke, 35, believes it will cost her about $2,000 a year to buy her three medications elsewhere. The money she saved on medications went to her child’s preschool costs, Behnke said.

“I was able to work less overtime,” said Behnke, a school resource officer at Portland High School.

Judy Rosen, a senior executive assistant at City Hall, said she hopes the program can resume. Her husband, Robert, a 69-year-old salesman, had been getting three medications through CanaRx. The impact of those costs on their monthly budget is a source of worry, she said.

“When you realize you’re in a program where you’re getting medications at no cost, you’re just thrilled and hope the bubble won’t burst,” she said.

Cathy Kilburn, 46, a senior accountant who gets one medication through the program, said its suspension was upsetting.

“Let’s give them a license and let them do it,” she said. “I think maybe the prescription drug companies might be upset over it because they want to make more money on it. I don’t know what the problem is. I’m upset about it because it’s going to cost me more money.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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