Florida’s Prescription Drug Importation Flop

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What if a governor gave a prescription drug importation party and nobody came?
 
Worse yet, what if a governor waved $30 million, provided by taxpayers, to encourage businesses to come to his prescription drug importation party—and still nobody came?
 
As reported in a Kaiser Health News story that appeared in the Miami Herald, that’s what happened in Florida.
 
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican whose scheme is backed by President Donald Trump, has been trying to set up a state-based program so that Floridians can buy prescription drugs from allegedly Canadian pharmacies at lower prices.
 
It’s not a new idea, a handful of states and cities have tried setting up (illegal) importation schemes for more than two decades.
 
For example, Minnesota under former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Illinois under former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich developed state-based importation schemes in the mid-2000s. A few cities also tried, primarily for the benefit of city employees.
 
Those projects all died from lack of participation. But like socialism, bad ideas continue to find an audience no matter how badly they fail.
 
There is a difference in the new importation push, however. It’s apparently legal.
 
As the Kaiser story notes, “A 2003 law allows drug importation from Canada, but only if the head of the federal Department of Health and Human Services deems it safe and cost-effective.”
 
No HHS secretary, Republican or Democrat, has been willing to make that certification—until Secretary Alex Azar.  As the former president of Eli Lilly, one of the country’s top drug makers, we suspect Azar has reservations about the safety of imported drugs and doubtless condemned importation in years past.
 
Moreover, with the passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Act in 2003 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the vast majority of Americans have prescription drug coverage. So what’s the point?
 
And Florida’s plan precludes biologics because they must be carefully handled and are easily compromised. Yet they tend to be the most expensive drugs, with the highest out-of-pocket copays—in large part thanks to Obamacare. 
 
But President Trump promised to lower drug prices, and importation is one of his solutions, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration knows it cannot ensure the safety of these imported drugs.
 
There are numerous resources that track fake and compromised medicines that are already coming into the country. Legitimizing importation will only open that door much wider.
 
At a time when the news is filled with stories of various scurrilous individuals and governments trying to hack our computers, our security systems and even our elections for fun and profit, why would anyone think they can trust a foreign-based prescription drug website that claims it’s in Canada?
 
It may be that DeSantis will eventually find a company willing to establish a Florida importation program, especially if he throws more money at it.
 
If so, he may be able to get some drugs to Floridians cheaper, but that doesn’t mean they will be as safe as what consumers get at their local drugstore.

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