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Plan to import cheaper Canadian drugs advances under Trump

Federal rulemaking has begun.

A plan to import drugs from Canada and other countries continues to move forward.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that plans are moving forward, for Florida and other states, to import pharmaceuticals.

HHS released a “notice of proposed rulemaking,” a necessary precursor to a process that could take months if not years. The rulemaking allows 60 days for comments, and an additional 75 days for review.

Azar, DeSantis and other state officials extolled the move in statements at the Capitol Wednesday, memorialized in a media release from the Governor’s Office.

“The high costs of prescription drugs have plagued Floridians for too long, and today’s announcement is a historic step towards a solution,” said DeSantis.

 “I want to thank President Trump for his steadfast support of our efforts to bring this issue to the forefront as well as Secretary Azar for realizing the benefits this plan will have not only on Florida, but Americans in other states across the country. With the support of the Florida Legislature, I will continue to work to identify innovative ways to reduce health care costs for Floridians,” DeSantis added.

“Today’s announcement outlines two pathways for the safe importation of certain prescription drugs to help provide safe, effective, more affordable drugs to American patients,” Azar added.

“These are historic actions by HHS and the FDA, and they represent the bold nature of President Trump’s agenda for lowering drug costs. The President has recognized the opportunity to lower costs for American patients through safe importation, and we at HHS and FDA are delivering on that possibility through a safe, commonsense approach, and we look forward to working with leaders like Governor DeSantis to do it,” the Secretary concluded.

“Secretary Azar’s announcement today of the historic proposed rule to allow safe and affordable prescription drug importation is an unprecedented step toward allowing greater access to these much-needed medicines for residents in Florida and throughout the nation,” AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew said.

“I commend President Trump, Secretary Azar and Governor DeSantis for supporting these efforts for the benefit of those who are struggling with the burden of high cost prescription drugs, and under their leadership, I look forward to continue working on making the Canadian Prescription Drug Program a reality for our state,” Mayhew added.

In August, the DeSantis administration submitted its “concept paper” to the Feds, outlining proposed program parameters.

That followed the passage of HB 23, a bill that establishes an intergovernmental structure: administered by the Agency for Health Care Administration, pills from Health Canada would be brought in via the program, which will be administrated by a vendor. A second prong of the program would allow imports from other countries deemed to be safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, who prioritized the passage of the bill, lauded the progress in a statement.

“Today’s announcement is the product of a President who puts people first, a reform minded Governor with a bold vision for Florida and a determination to get results for all, and a legislature committed to keeping it’s word and giving Floridians access to cost effective and safe medications,” Oliva said.

“We agree with the President that the implementation of this newly expanded market should be done quickly and look forward to working with his Administration to make that directive a reality. This plan should expand access, reduce cost, and ensure quality and I am grateful to my colleagues who supported this initiative,” Oliva added.

“The law authorizing today’s action is 20 years old. Implementing the law, and the rules to go with it, seemed until today to be an immovable object. Our challenge now is to keep it moving and I have no doubt, under the leadership of President Trump and Governor DeSantis, we will do just that,” Oliva concluded.

However, it wasn’t all plaudits for the pill plan.

“At a time when there are pragmatic policy solutions being considered to lower costs for seniors at the pharmacy counter and increase competition in the market, it is disappointing the Administration once again put politics over patients,” asserted PhRMA president and CEO Stephen J. Ubl.

“The Administration chose to proceed with an importation scheme that could endanger American lives, could worsen the opioid crisis and has been called unworkable by Canadian officials. Instead, they could have worked with stakeholders to develop and advance meaningful solutions that would directly benefit patients. We are reviewing the details of the proposed rule and draft guidance and will be providing the Administration with our comments and concerns with the hope that no patients are endangered by this political maneuver,” Ubl added.

Illustrating the unique battle lines on this issue, Florida Democrats joined the drug lobby in fierce opposition.

“Secretary Azar’s visit to Tallahassee today is a smoke and mirrors attempt to cover up Trump’s endless broken promises on health care. Trump and Azar have put corporate profits over the health of Floridians time and time again: they’ve tried to cut medicare funding, put millions of Floridians with preexisting conditions at risk, worked to repeal the Affordable Care Act and opposed H.R.3, which would allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices — all while lavishing drug companies with billions in tax breaks,” said Chair Terrie Rizzo.

“Today, the Trump Administration is putting on a show to hawk another empty promise to Floridians, but all shows must come to an end. Floridians will remember Trump’s attacks on their health care at the ballot box this November,” Rizzo said.

Time will tell if Florida voters recoil against the chance to buy cheaper prescription drugs or not.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at

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