Americans are known to head across the border into Canada to buy their prescription drugs at cheaper costs.
Now, for the first time, a state government has received approval to do the same thing on a much larger scale. In a decision described as historic, the Food and Drug Administration has granted Florida’s request to import drugs in bulk from Canada, reports the New York Times.
The pharmaceutical industry is expected to file a legal challenge before that happens, but if the move goes through, expect other states to follow suit. Details:
- The impact: The development has the potential to “change the way Americans obtain prescription medicines and could reduce their cost,” per the Wall Street Journal. Several other states already have applications pending to the FDA, including Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
- However: Canada is only so big. “There are real constraints on Canada’s ability to even do this—they would basically be giving up drugs that are meant for their population to subsidize drugs for people in Florida,” Stacie Dusetzina, a health-policy professor at Vanderbilt, tells the Journal. More tellingly, a spokeswoman for Health Canada agrees: “Canada’s drug supply is too small to meet the demands of both American and Canadian consumers,” Maryse Durette tells the Times. “Bulk importation will not provide an effective solution to the problem of high drug prices in the US.”
- Context: The Washington Post notes that the decision comes as Big Pharma appears to realize something has to give on drug prices. Eli Lilly, for example, said this week it would make its diabetes and weight-loss drugs available via telehealth, and CVS is in the midst of a major revamp of its pricing that takes effect in 2025. Both moves could result in lower prices. Politically, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could gain bragging rights over this, as could former President Trump, whose administration pushed the importation law ahead, and President Biden, whose FDA signed off on it.
- First drugs: Florida plans to import drugs initially for the treatment of HIV, AIDS, diabetes, hepatitis C, and mental illness, per CNN. They would be used for Medicaid patients, inmates, and other patients served by state entities, and the FDA would have to approve any such purchases after vetting them for safety and to verify savings. However, it could be awhile before all the legal hurdles get sorted out.