The Trump Administration is supporting a request Florida lawmakers just passed to curb rising drug costs by allowing the state to important cheaper prescription drugs from outside the U.S.
At an Oval Office meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday, President Donald Trump directed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to work with DeSantis on the state’s drug importation program.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, sponsored the legislation. He said White House officials told him earlier this year that reviewing the proposal could take up to two years.
“So to hear the news yesterday that President Trump said ‘let’s go get them’ was very encouraging,” Bean said. “Governor DeSantis has really taken the lead to say we’re paying the highest drug prices on the planet.”
Bean said a provision in the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act allows states to import drugs from other countries as long as they have federal approval. Dozens of other states are also looking for cheaper drugs.
Vermont became the first state to approve importing prescription drugs from Canada last year.
With federal approval, the legislation would create two drug importing programs.
One program would import drugs from Canada to serve “vulnerable populations” like Medicaid patients and inmates. The other would bring in drugs from other countries for all patients.
Bean said the federal government will judge the Florida legislation on its safety and savings.
“And right now we’re paying the highest drug prices on the planet, so savings would be easy to maintain,” he said.
Critics worry about the safety. Don Bell, a former Canadian officer and border patrol agent, said he’s concerned the plan could create a loophole that smugglers will exploit to traffic counterfeit medicine into Florida.
“Criminals will attempt to reap significant elicit profits from such a loophole. This will significantly increase the black market for counterfeit prescription drugs and endanger Florida consumers,” he said at a Senate Committee hearing earlier this year. “Canadian authorities and law enforcement are neither resources nor structured to guarantee the safety of transnational drug shipments.”
But Bean contends that those claims are unfounded and largely driven by companies that want to prevent Floridians from obtaining access to cheaper medication.
“Because that’s what the drug companies want,” he said. “They have been spending money to make sure that everybody is scared to do this.”
He said 40% of drugs already come from a foreign country and safety measures that track and trace drugs are in place.
The legislation gives Florida until 2020 to submit a plan for federal approval, but Bean said he’s hopeful the process will go much faster.
“It’s exciting that both the federal government and our governor said let’s make this a priority,” Bean said.