Florida’s meeting with Trump Administration on drug import bill signals promise for other states

On Monday, President Donald Trump directed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to work with Florida’s governor on the state’s drug importation program. A meeting between Azar and Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, was held in the oval office. The goal of the meeting was to gain approval for the drug importation bill that recently passed through the Florida State Legislature.


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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis openly expressed an interest and desire for Florida to become the first state in the nation to import medications from Canada and other foreign countries. His goal is to establish cheaper prices for prescription medications as a way to begin to cut health care costs in the state. In response Representatives Avila, Fischer and Rommel drafted a bill during the Florida’s legislative session to establish a drug importation program.

House Bill 19 directs the state Agency for Health Care Administration to establish a list of drugs and Canadian medication suppliers that could contract with the state and result in cost savings. The bill also establishes an international program that allows private citizens to import drugs from other countries besides Canada, by allowing wholesale drug distributors and pharmacists abroad to export medication to similar drug distributors in the United States.

The bill needs federal approval from the Health and Human Services Secretary to move forward.

Past secretaries, including Azar, have denied approval for the bill. With President Trump’s consideration and approval of the bill, however, it is possible that the legislation may gain approval despite Azar’s concerns with the program.

Florida is not the only state to propose drug importation legislation this session. Several other states have introduced similar bills.

In Oregon, Senate Bill 409 proposes the creation of a drug importation program with Canada. The bill’s goal, like Florida’s, is a starting point in lowering the high cost of prescription medication, and to begin a trend of lowering overall healthcare costs.

Sponsors of the Oregon bill cited statistics that demonstrate that the U.S. citizens pay nearly 20 percent more in prescription drug costs than do Canadians. The bill text also includes that 40 percent of finished prescription medications are already produced outside the United States, and that 80 percent of the raw materials used to produce the medication are imported from outside the United States.

Senate Bill 409 was heard in the Senate Health Care Committee, and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee for consideration. There is currently no public hearing scheduled.

Another Oregon bill, House Bill 2689, requires the Oregon Health Authority to design a program to import prescription drugs from Canada. This bill is the counterpart to the bill introduced in the opposite chamber. House Bill 2689 was also heard in the House Health Care Committee and has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. There is no date for public hearing scheduled.

If passed, both bills would also need approval from the federal government in order for the state to begin implementation.

In Colorado, Senate Bill 5, the Import Prescription Drugs from Canada bill, directs the Colorado Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing to establish a program to import prescription pharmaceutical products from Canada. Similar to Oregon, the bill is designed as a cost-saving mechanism for Coloradans. If the bill were approved by Azar, the Colorado Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing would be required to implement the program, and the state would create a funding mechanism to pay for the importation program itself.

The bill passed through both the House and the Senate and has been sent to the governor’s desk for consideration and signing.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis mentioned that he would work with the Legislature to set up such a program in his state of the state address earlier this year.

If signed, the bill will also have to seek approval from Azar.

In Utah, House Bill 267 directs the Utah Department of Health to seek approval for a drug importation program with Canada. The bill is similar to those introduced in Colorado and Oregon.

During public testimony, many elected officials raised questions regarding the safety of these imported and drugs. Canada only has one production facility that the FDA is in coordination with, and there is no track-and-trace system in place. Many worried that it could be dangerous to import these medications with no guarantee that they are safe and/or effective.   

The bill was considered in both the Utah House and Senate, but was not passed on final readings.

Following the meeting this Monday, it will be important to follow what happens in Florida as this may become a precedent in how other states proceed with their imported medication legislation.