Colorado Rx importation bill tackles its first obstacle in the House, indicating possible path to passage

After passing the Senate last month with a 27-6 vote, SB 21-123 — Colorado’s effort to expand on its pending Canadian prescription drug importation program — moved out of the House Health and Insurance Committee on Wednesday, suggesting the bill might advance through the second chamber and become law.

Despite passing out of committee, the bill — which would permit the state to pursue prescription drug importation programs in other countries with lower prescription drug costs, such as Australia — received some notable opposition from the committee’s Republican members.

 

 

Representative Matt Soper voiced doubts about whether the program could even be pursued if the bill passed, since the initiative would require a change in federal rule — something the bill’s sponsors expect to happen under the Biden Administration — in order to go forward. Soper said he believed no other Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has ever granted a waiver for such a program, even if it was permitted by state law.

“We’re kind of basing it on the idea that another statute is going to be passed and that we’re going to be expanding it. It seems like we have more of a cart before the horse.”

The bill’s text lists the authorization of the acting HHS secretary as one of the requirements to move forward:

Image: Colorado Legislature

Soper’s remarks are incorrect, as sponsor Rep. Karen McCormick pointed out in response to Soper. The Trump Administration granted federal authorization to the program late last year. In her testimony supporting the bill, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF)’s executive director, Kim Bimestefer, confirmed the program received the necessary waiver last year.

Republican Sen. Mark Baisley told the sponsors his main concerns have to do with the state’s involvement in the program, which he believes might be an overreach of government control. He said he had the same concern about the 2019 bill allowing Colorado’s Canadian drug importation program when it came before the committee — which Baisley voted against.

In response, McCormick said a state entity’s involvement is needed to ensure the proper safety regulations are in place for the program.

“For any state to enact this program, there has to be an agency — like HCPF — that is the overseer of the program so that all of those same safeguards are in place and that we are absolutely sure that the FDA-approved countries and facilities and processes are still in place so that it’s not a free-for-all. It kind of has to be approved through a program.”

Republican Rep. Mike Lynch, the bill’s other House sponsor, spoke about his change of perspective on the initiative — perhaps representative of the important Republican support the bill has received so far (numerous Republicans voted to pass it out of the Senate).

“Initially, I was a little wary about this bill because it’s putting us in a weird position in our state to do trade with Canada … But after thorough stakeholding and a lot of research and knowing more about drugs now than I ever wanted to, those fears have gone away.”

He mirrored the sentiments of his Senate colleagues, saying his original apprehension was mostly due to safety concerns.

“One of the guardrails that I wanted to make sure was in this is that it doesn’t just open us up to a completely international free market. It really does constrain [Colorado] to places that we’re already getting drugs from, and it reduces those costs substantially.”

Numerous other states have similar legislation involving international prescription drug importation, so Colorado isn’t alone in its efforts. However, according to McCormick, Colorado is so far the closest to greenlighting their program, rivaled only by Florida.

The committee passed HB 21-123 with eight votes in favor and five — all five Republican committee members — voting against it. It will soon be considered by the entire House. Given Gov. Jared Polis’ declared support for the initiative, the bill’s supporters have little to worry about when and if it arrives on his desk.