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U.S. Seeks Drug Imports from Canada

SubverseJul 31, 2019, 5:41:50 PM

By Mac Molli 

Today, President Trump and his administration took the first step toward allowing the import of medicine from Canada. The Department of Health and Human Services claims they proposed a rule, alongside the FDA, to allow authorized states and other groups to pursue and lead projects to import drugs from Canada. Their hope is to bring inexpensive prescription drugs to the American people who have been vastly overpaying for over-the-counter medications for years.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as of 2018, the U.S. had the highest health spending in the world, amassing $10,586 per capita. Of that, 12% of their health budget was spent on pharmaceuticals, which is a little over $1,200 per citizen out-of-pocket.

Federal programs, like Medicaid which covers seventy-two million people, cover the rest of the bill. Many Americans think that Medicaid Administrators should use their purchasing power to negotiate with big pharma to lower their prices, while others fear that this tactic could backfire, leading to low-income patients losing access to their medications. Medicaid publishes state drug utilization data on their website, showing the prescription name, a labeler code that identifies the manufacturer, labeler, and packager, and utilization information as part of the National Drug Code.

Recently, the Trump Administration failed in their efforts to reduce drug prices in the U.S., specifically, losing a legal battle with drug-makers to disclose the price of their medication in television ads, as well as failing to get pharmacy benefit managers to provide discounts to Medicare recipients. However, allowing international drug makers to bring cheaper drugs to sell in the U.S. would potentially allow them to sell below their contracted prices.

The implementation of this is not in the near future as there are many technical steps for rule making and potential challenges with proposals in Washington, including lobbying from the healthcare industry. The proposal starts by allowing states, wholesalers, or pharmacists to submit pilot project plans for Canadian drugs if their raw materials are manufactured in the same place as U.S. versions and are approved by the FDA. However, it would exclude biologics, infused, injected, and inhaled drugs used in surgeries.

In the past, Canada has opposed any U.S. plans to buy their prescription drugs stemming from a fear that the drug supply may decrease and the cost of prescriptions would be higher for their citizens. U.S. lawmakers see this as a big problem towards their goal of decreasing prescription drug prices for Americans. The U.S. Health and Human Services secretary said a few weeks ago the government was looking into ways to import cheaper prescription drugs from overseas. Currently, there are ten states that have passed or proposed laws allowing imports of prescription drugs, but shipments need federal approval to be legal.

Health Canada states their position has not changed. The ministry said officials have “made Canada’s position clear” to both federal and state officials in the United States and stands ready to “take action to ensure Canadians have uninterrupted access to the prescription drugs they need.”