OUR POSITION: DeSantis, Trump move forward with Canadian prescription drug play.
Despite a barrage of negative ads from the drug industry, the Florida Legislature did the right thing this year by approving a bill that would permit the importation of drugs from Canada. Now, the proposal is poised to move to the federal level, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has a close ally in the White House.
President Trump recently endorsed the concept of drug importation during an Oval Office meeting with DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. Trump has previously mentioned the possibility of using Canadian drugs to leverage lower costs here. The Florida proposal presents an opportunity to test the waters.
Gaetz said after the meeting, “It was very clear that the president wants to see an actionable plan that he can approve for drug importation.”
There’s a problem, though.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar—a former executive for Eli Lilly & Co.—has thrown cold water on the concept in the past. In a speech last year, he called the idea “a gimmick,” and said allowing states to import drugs from lower-cost Canada would have little effect because the Canadian market is so small.
“Canada simply doesn’t have enough drugs to sell them to us for less money, and drug companies won’t sell Canada or Europe more just to have them imported here,” Azar said.
That’s also the position of the pharmaceutical lobby, which also hammered quality-control fears in TV ads as the drug importation bill was making its way through the Florida Legislature in April.
The pricing issue may prove to be valid. Safety concerns, though, seem far less so.
An analysis by the fact-checking website PolitiFact noted that, according to a 2003 federal law, “importers must comply with federal safeguards, including that the drugs be tested, and Health and Human Services would have to certify to Congress that the program poses no additional safety risk.” In addition, the Canadian drug oversight system is similar to ours.
Politifact found the health-risk claims to be “false.” The website also debunked industry claims that Florida’s law might bring a flood of unsafe drugs from China. The aim, in fact, is for Canadian imports. The China claim is a red herring.
As DeSantis said in a speech to the AARP in April, “ You think I’m going to, like, bring in a bunch of drugs from Pakistan and off the street?
“The safety is going to be there, and if it’s not there, then we wouldn’t want to do it.”
The good news is that, despite personal misgivings, Azar apparently will work with Florida officials to develop a workable Canadian drug importation plan. That would be a positive step.
It may indeed be that the program eventually will deliver less-than-promised cost-savings. But it’s true that the average price for patented prescription drugs in the U.S. is now three times higher than Canada.
This is an ideal opportunity for Trump to use his famous bully pulpit. It’s certainly worth a shot to see if Florida can get a better deal on prescription drugs across the border.