Florida poised to become first state to import prescription drugs from Canada

Plans to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada have been in the works for years.  In Florida, it may finally happen sooner than many may think – possibly as soon as early next year.

Florida Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller recently told a state Senate panel, "I would hope we could start importing the first quarter of the new year."  

Helping to push the idea along is the fact that as much as they differ on everything else, President Joe Biden and Governor Ron DeSantis both support it.

"If you have Canada drugs, the same drug costs 25 percent of what it costs here. We want Floridians to be able to share in those discounts," said DeSantis.

A RAND study examined drug prices in nearly 40 nations and found the U.S. pays more for prescription medication than all of them. Average prices checked in around 250-percent higher in the United States, or as President Biden recently noted, "about two to three times what other countries pay."

In the U.S., insurance companies cover most of the cost of drugs for those who are insured. But those without coverage, and those who have insurance that does not cover their particular medications, get burned – or go without.

In Canada, prescription drugs are much cheaper because the Canadian government regulates and controls pricing. So the idea is to help Americans benefit from Canada’s price controls.

As one might expect, the pharmaceutical lobby opposes the plan to import prescription drugs from Canada. It has run ads questioning the safety of using drugs imported from other countries – one ad even stating, "too many have already died from counterfeit drugs; are you willing to take that risk?"

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But Governor Ron DeSantis says we can trust Canada – and Congress agrees. It passed legislation authorizing commercial drug imports from Canada in 2003. Sixteen years later, Florida was one of the first states to begin the process.  

The state has spent the past two years setting up the system, which the governor says will ensure its safety.

"This program only applies if we are showing that we are bringing drugs in that are safe and that are less expensive than what we already have," said Governor DeSantis.

The final step is FDA authorization, and President Biden has already ordered the FDA to go to work on that. As soon as the FDA gives the green light, Florida plans to kick into action.  

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Life Science Logistics in Lakeland is ready for the moment.  Its warehouses would begin to fill with boxes and bottles of pills – all prescription drugs from Canada.

"We are ready to begin importing within 90 days' time," a company spokesperson told FOX 13.

The state has not worked out or announced some of the details, like which drugs will come first. State managers have suggested they may start with drugs to treat diabetes, hepatitis, COPD, and/or HIV/AIDS.

They’ll likely start with a small number of drugs for those with Medicaid and then others with state insurance.  Further expansion would be based on success of the program as well as demand.

There are a few wrinkles in the plan that have to be worked out. The pharmaceutical industry is challenging it in court.  And supplies may also pose a challenge because Canada cannot supply its own citizens while also having enough to go around for the U.S., or even all of Florida, for that matter.  The shipments would have to be what’s considered "excess" or "surplus" on the Canadian market.

But after years of planning, Florida could clear these hurdles in 2022, jump-starting big changes in where we get our medicine, and how much we pay for it.