A recent press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines a plan for the safe importation of certain drugs originally intended for foreign markets. The Trump Administration is also supporting and promoting it as a new way for Americans to legally and safely import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
Health and Human Resources Secretary Alex Azar said, “President Trump has been clear: for too long American patients have been paying exorbitantly high prices for prescription drugs that are made available to other countries at lower prices. When we released the President’s drug pricing blueprint – PDF for putting American patients first, we said we are open to all potential solutions to combat high drug prices that protect patient safety, are effective at delivering lower prices, and respect choice, innovation and access. Today’s announcement outlines the pathways the Administration intends to explore to allow safe importation of certain prescription drugs to lower prices and reduce out of pocket costs for American patients. This is the next important step in the Administration’s work to end foreign freeloading and put American patients first.”
However, there is no definitive timeline concerning when consumers will be able to take advantage of the lower-cost prescription medications. The plan still has to pass regulatory approval and will inevitably face scrutiny from pharmaceutical companies that stand to lose profits.
Stephen Ubl, president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America considers the plan too dangerous for American patients. He said, “There is no way to guarantee the safety of drugs that come into the country from outside the United States’ gold-standard supply chain. Drugs coming through Canada could have originated from anywhere in the world.”
From high blood pressure to elevated blood sugars, many patients are able to find generic drugs that are more affordable to manage their respective medical conditions. Yet, recent polls continue to indicate that a growing number of consumers are worried about the rising costs of medications like insulin, forcing them to ration doses.
Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D said, “We support the President and Secretary’s efforts to bring down drug prices for Americans. The FDA has a unique role to play in promoting competition that in turn can help reduce drug prices and improve access to medicine for Americans. Driving down drug prices requires a comprehensive approach and we must continue to look at all innovative solutions to this challenge. Today’s proposal is the result of the hard work by the dedicated staff of the FDA, in close collaboration with HHS and the White House, to identify potential pathways we can pursue to support the safe importation of certain prescription drugs. We’ve been keenly focused on ensuring the importation approaches we’ve outlined pose no additional risk to the public’s health and safety. We know there are many operational challenges to address through each of these pathways, and are actively working through them as we look to formally announce these policies, with opportunity for public comment, in the coming months.”