SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – Expressing frustration with the Medicare prescription drug program, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack joined Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday in touting a three-state initiative intended to help negotiate lower prices for drugs purchased under Medicaid.

Vilsack, who is considering a 2008 presidential bid, spent the day with fellow Democrat Baldacci, visiting a public housing complex for seniors before heading north for discussions with elderly residents in Orono.

The Iowan said the purpose of his visit was to express appreciation to Baldacci for initiating the Sovereign States Drug Consortium, a purchasing pool that gives the states greater clout in its Medicaid purchases from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

“This particular program has saved my state $11 million, so I’m here to thank him,” Vilsack said. “This is not a partisan issue,” he added, noting that Baldacci reached out to Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, and enlisted that state in the purchasing pool.

Vilsack said the pool is particularly advantageous to smaller states that lack extensive purchasing power. Baldacci said his administration has been involved in discussions with seven other states that may be interested in joining the consortium.

Jude Walsh of the Governor’s Office of Health Policy & Finance declined to identify the seven prospects because none has yet made a commitment.

Baldacci said the savings to Maine have already exceeded more than $1 million and are expected to increase to $5 million once the program is fully operational.

Hailing Baldacci as a national leader among the governors on health care-related issues, Vilsack said a program in his state that has expanded coverage to 15,000 uninsured residents was modeled after a similar effort that Baldacci introduced in Maine.

Several of the three-dozen seniors who attended the morning gathering peppered the two governors with questions and stories of problems they have encountered with Medicare Part D, which began offering drug coverage at the beginning of the year.

The governors maintained that the federal program was designed to reflect the concerns of insurers and drug manufacturers, rather than consumers.

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