FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Two multinational corporations have expressed tentative interest in learning more about being the first contracted vendor in administering Florida’s still federally unapproved prescription drug importation program.

Ernst & Young and Maximus – one a globally respected fiscal auditing firm, the other an international health care brokerage – have responded to a request for bids from potential vendors to run the nascent program beginning December 2019.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration [AHCA] issued the request for bids in May after lawmakers approved House Bill 19, which authorizes the state to create three prescription drug importation programs and secure federal authorization for them by July 2020.

Creating the plans was a 2019 legislative priority of newly-elected Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The three plans are:

• the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program managed by the AHCA;

• the International Prescription Drug Importation Program managed by the Department of Business & Professional Regulation [DBPR];

• a pilot program run by the Florida Department of Health and DBPR.

Under HB 19, the AHCA has until Dec. 1 to hire a vendor to help identify drugs that should be imported from Canadian suppliers.

The agency then has until July 1, 2020, to submit a “waiver” request to the U.S. Health & Human Services [HHS] agency to approve the program.

Florida lawmakers adopted the programs despite unanswered questions, such as how the state will secure a “vendor,” if it would be allowed by Canadian officials and if HHS Secretary Alex Azar would approve the state’s program.

Azar has expressed reservations about state-sanctioned drug import programs and HHS has not yet approved Maine’s 2017 seminal foray into importation, so a prompt decision is not anticipated despite the new state law’s July 2020 deadline.

DeSantis said his personal relationship with President Donald Trump will ensure the president’s front-burner focus on Florida’s drug-import initiative and it won’t wallow entangled in red tape inertia.

Last week, the Trump administration announced HHS and other federal health agencies were adopting a plan to make it easier for states to launch drug-importation programs similar to Florida’s.

In response to AHCA’s 30-day vendor solicitation, Ernst & Young [E&Y] and Maximus were the only two to throw in their hats, according to the News Service of Florida.

Five pages of cost-related information in E&Y’s June 25 response were blacked-out, while Maximus, in its response, said it would “prefer to discuss pricing directly with the state,” according to the News Service of Florida.

E&Y is considered one of the “Big Four” elite International accounting firms, joining Deloitte, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC] in providing financial audits, tax consulting and advisory services to governments and corporations worldwide.

London-based E&Y has 270,000 employees, 700 offices in 150 countries and reported $34.8 billion in sales in 2018.

The U.S. General Services Administration [GSA] in March awarded a five-year, $41.8 million contract to E&Y to develop a new system for federal agencies to validate and track vetted contractors on SAM.gov.

E&Y, which is owned by Dun & Bradstreet [D&B], will essentially be replacing the system D&B’ installed decades ago – its Data Universal Number System [DUNS] – that verifies corporate identities, contract awards and other public sector contracting data.

In 2017, E&Y won 3½-year contracts with the Air Force [$44.2 million] and the Navy [$149.4 million] to audit their general funds and working capital fund financial statements.

Maximus, based in Reston, Va., is the leading administrator of Medicaid enrollment broker services in the U.S., with work centers across the U.S., Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Maximus was founded in 1975, has more than 30,000 employees worldwide and reported $2.4 billion annual revenue in 2017.

According to Maximus, the company answers more than 7 million calls per month at its “contact centers,” performs more than 1.6 million assessments annually worldwide, and – with an $800 million investment in General Dynamic’s former “public-facing contact center business” in 2018 – has secured $1.2 billion in prime contracts.

The AHCA 30-day open comment/vendor query solicitation drew five responses that criticized the new law and foundling program, including from the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America [PhRMA], “Big Pharma’s” lobbying machine.

Other negative comments came from the Oncology Managers of Florida Inc.; the Partnership for Safe Medicines; the American Senior Alliance; and the Healthcare Distribution Alliance [HDA].

Florida’s proposed prescription drug import program “will negatively impact the pharmaceutical supply chain and jeopardize patient safety,” HDA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Elizabeth Gallenagh wrote.