Trump Administration Plans To Allow Imports Of Some Prescription Drugs From Canada< < Back to
Updated at 10:05 a.m. ET
The Trump administration is outlining two possible ways certain drugs that were intended for foreign markets could be imported to the U.S. — a move that would clear the way to import some prescription drugs from Canada.
“Today’s announcement outlines the pathways the Administration intends to explore to allow safe importation of certain prescription drugs to lower prices and reduce out of pocket costs for American patients,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement about the plan. “This is the next important step in the Administration’s work to end foreign freeloading and put American patients first.”
The Department of Health and Human Services outlined two “pathways” for importing the drugs to the U.S.
In one initiative, the Food and Drug Administration and HHS will rely on their rulemaking authority to use existing federal law to set up pilot projects from states or wholesalers “outlining how they would import certain drugs from Canada that are versions of FDA-approved drugs that are manufactured consistent with the FDA approval.”
Separately, the FDA will work on safety guidelines for drug manufacturers who want to import any drugs they sell in foreign countries to the U.S. market. The HHS statement says manufacturers would use a new National Drug Code that could allow them to price drugs lower than what is required by their current distribution contracts.
“This pathway could be particularly helpful to patients with significantly high cost prescription drugs,” HHS says. “This would potentially include medications like insulin used to treat diabetes, as well as those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disorders, and cancer.”
Wednesday’s announcement marks the first step in the process. It could take years to implement the plans — which could also be challenged in court.
By setting in motion a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada, Azar is embracing an idea that he has previously dismissed as a gimmick. In May of last year, Azar said:
“Many people may be familiar with proposals to give our seniors access to cheaper drugs by importing drugs from other countries, such as Canada. This, too, is a gimmick. It has been assessed multiple times by the Congressional Budget Office, and CBO has said it would have no meaningful effect.”
The secretary was apparently referring to a 2004 analysis in which the CBO reported that any “reduction in drug spending from importation would be small,” given the size of Canada’s drug market when compared to the U.S.
In that analysis, the CBO also said, “Proposals to permit parallel trade with a large group of countries would offer greater potential savings.”
A growing number of U.S. states have recently approved their own plans to import prescription drugs from Canada, hoping to bargain for better deals than the current system allows.
Strapped with high costs from paying for prescription drugs through Medicaid and state employee plans, Florida, Vermont and Colorado have approved their own drug import laws. More than half of all U.S. states have proposed such measures this year, as Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, told NPR last month.
But before those states could cut their own deals to import drugs, they would need approval from the HHS. With today’s announcement, the federal government is taking a step toward the states’ position.