This time last year, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Alex Azar, was calling the idea of importing cheaper drugs from Canada a “gimmick.” Now, Trump has given the plan a thumbs-up, saying the government is “open for business” to import drugs from Canada. This change of heart seems to be the Trump administration’s latest effort to give Americans access to cheaper prescription drugs.
Announced last Wednesday, this plan would allow Americans to import certain low-cost drugs from Canadian pharmacies and wholesalers. It would be the responsibility of states, wholesalers, and pharmacies to draft proposals for safe importation of drugs that are already available in the United States. They would then need to submit these proposals to the FDA for approval.
Biosimilar drugs and those administered through IV would be exempt from importation, as would controlled substances and insulin. Even though many lawmakers are working to make insulin more affordable in the United States, people with diabetes are dying at alarming rates due to soaring insulin prices.
Colorado, Florida, and Vermont have already passed legislation to allow citizens to import drugs from Canada. Vermont has identified 17 drugs that would save enough money to justify importation, including drugs that treat diabetes, hepatitis C, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
As a whole, the American pharmaceutical industry is opposed to this plan. Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of PhRMA (the country’s largest healthcare lobby group), called the plan “far too dangerous for American patients.”
He continued, “There is no way to guarantee the safety of drugs that come into the country from outside the United States’ gold-standard supply chain. Drugs coming through Canada could have originated from anywhere in the world and may not have undergone stringent review by the FDA.”
Although they are not explicitly opposed, health officials in Canada have expressed concern over drug shortages should the U.S. begin to import Canadian drugs.
Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, praised the idea while also pointing out that it’s not a long-term solution. “This is a tactic not a policy solution,” he said. “We should not fool ourselves into thinking that relying on Canada’s ability to regulate drug prices is a comprehensive or long-term solution for the United States. Most importantly, it does not solve the egregious problem of pharmaceutical price abuses in America.”
Previous attempts to lower drug prices
Lowering drug prices has been a long-time goal of Trump, but his administration has faced several setbacks pursuing this goal. Earlier this month, the administration had to withdraw a proposal to ban PBM kickbacks, which are proven to keep drug prices grossly inflated.
Another blow happened earlier this summer when a federal judge in Washington, D.C. overruled the administration’s decision to require drugmakers to include the price of their drugs in TV ads.
Regardless of these setbacks, the administration is taking another run at the problem of American drug prices.