Canada to Trump: you can’t take our prescription drugs

Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Friday announced new measures to protect the country’s drug supply from bulk imports that could exacerbate drug shortages. It prohibits the distribution of certain drugs outside of Canada if it causes or aggravates a shortage.

“Our health care system is a symbol of our national identity and we are committed to standing up for it,” Hajdu said. “The actions we are taking today will help protect Canadians’ access to the drugs they rely on.”

Importing drugs from overseas, particularly from Canada, is a centerpiece of Trump’s plan to cut prices, a key priority of his campaign and his first term. After the president issued an executive order in July pushing to allow such imports, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule in late September setting out a path for states and some other entities to put in place drug import programs.

President-elect Joe Biden has also expressed interest in allowing consumers to import drugs from other countries as long as the federal government deems them safe.

Last week, Florida became the first state to submit an import proposal to the federal agency to create such a program under the new rule. The plan calls for initially importing several classes of drugs, including maintenance drugs to help people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and HIV / AIDS. Several other states, including Vermont, Colorado, New Mexico, and Maine, have also passed laws seeking federal approval for importation.

In response to the growing momentum, a trio of pharmaceutical industry groups last week filed an import lawsuit, saying the effort would jeopardize the health of Americans and not lower prices.

“The final rule fails to overcome the well-documented import safety concerns expressed for nearly two decades by previous HHS secretaries from all parties, or to show that the proposal would result in cost savings – let alone important – for American consumers, ”said James Stansel, general counsel at PhRMA, the industry’s leading lobbying group.

Health policy experts have also questioned the effectiveness of importing drugs from Canada – where an independent body established by Parliament ensures that brand name drug prices are not excessive. Even HHS secretary Alex Azar called it a “gadget” in 2018, before changing his tone.

Announcing the measures last week, Canada’s Department of Health said it has repeatedly stated that the US rule will do little to reduce prices in America since Canada only accounts for 2% of global sales of pharmaceuticals, while the United States accounts for 44% of sales.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association has warned the country is already suffering from drug shortages, which have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, days before Bernie Sanders, then Democratic presidential primary candidate, traveled north with diabetic patients in search of cheaper insulin, a coalition of 15 healthcare professionals and advocacy groups Canadian patients urged the government to protect the country’s pharmaceutical supply.
Although he has only a few weeks left in power, the Trump administration recently imposed several measures aimed at cutting drug prices. Earlier this month, he unveiled two controversial rules that immediately sparked legal threats from the pharmaceutical industry.
One of them will charge Medicare the same price for certain expensive prescription drugs as other developed countries, a “most-favored-nation price.”

The other will effectively ban drugmakers from giving discounts to drug benefit managers and insurers – a dramatic change in the way many drugs are priced and paid for in Medicare and Medicaid. Instead, drug companies will be encouraged to pass discounts directly to patients at the pharmacy counter.

The administration had given up on publishing the rule last year after finding that it increased costs for seniors and the federal government.

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