Gov. Ron DeSantis’ drive to create a state-backed program to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada has secured a key federal agency’s endorsement following a prod by President Donald Trump, who also expressed support for at least four other similar state-based plans.
DeSantis and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretrary Alex Azar outlined a proposed federal rule to allow states to create their own prescription drug importation programs and a plan that outlines “two pathways for the safe importation of certain prescription drugs” from Canada.
Florida is one of four states with proposed state-sanctioned drug import plans awaiting HHS approval. With the proposed rule and drug-import regulations, the HHS green-lighted states to explore programs like the Florida effort spearheaded by DeSantis.
“These are historic actions by HHS and the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) and they represent the bold nature of President Trump’s agenda for lowering drug costs,” Azar said. “The President has recognized the opportunity to lower costs for American patients through safe importation, and we at HHS and FDA are delivering on that possibility through a safe, commonsense approach, and we look forward to working with leaders like Gov. DeSantis to do it.”
“I want to thank President Trump for his steadfast support of our efforts to bring this issue to the forefront, as well as Secretary Azar for realizing the benefits this plan will have not only on Florida, but Americans in other states across the country,” DeSantis said in a statement. “With the support of the Florida Legislature, I will continue to work to identify innovative ways to reduce health care costs for Floridians.”
DeSantis introduced his plan to create a state-backed prescription drug import program to reduce the high cost of pharmaceuticals after assuming office last January.
DeSantis’ persuaded the Legislature to authorize his plan during the 2019 session, which was approved as House Bill 19, legislation to create three prescription drug importation programs by July 2020:
• The Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA);
• The International Prescription Drug Importation Program managed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR);
• A pilot program run by the Florida Department of Health and DBPR.
Under HB 19, the AHCA would contract with a vendor to “identify Canadian suppliers in compliance with that country’s regulations.”
The program creates an intergovernmental relationship between the AHCA and Health Canada to be administered by a vendor.
DeSantis has requested $20.4 million in his fiscal 2021 budget request to hire a contractor to get Florida’s prospective Canadian drug-importation program off the ground.
But the entire program depended on receiving prerequisite approval and rule-making by the HHS, which did not appear receptive to state-based drug important programs – Azar called them a “gimmick” – and Vermont’s seminal law had idled without federal assent since its 2017 adoption.
This week's announcement officially begins a 75-day public comment period before the new rules can be finalized. Once the rules are in place, it could still take years for Florida and other states’ to get final approval of their plans, DiSantis cautioned.
“This is only one step. And I’ve always said, there is no silver bullet with this,” he said.