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DeSantis Looks To Canada To Lower Drug Costs

Prescription drugs on a shelf
Daylina Miller/WUSF
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Pointing to the high costs of health care, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday announced plans to create a program that would allow Floridians to have access to FDA-approved drugs from Canada. 

Appearing at The Villages, DeSantis said he will work with President Donald Trump on creation of the program, which would require approval from the Trump administration.

“I spoke personally to President Trump on both Sunday and Monday about this,” DeSantis told a crowd at the huge Central Florida retirement community. “He’s not only supportive, he’s enthusiastic.”

DeSantis said his administration is working on keeping regulations — and taxes — down for Florida businesses.

“Now the biggest hurdle is paying for the health insurance,” he said. “And a lot of it is … because of the prescription drugs.”

The governor’s office didn’t release a detailed plan.  But DeSantis said the program would be possible under the federal Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.

The law allows imports from Canada of prescription drugs for personal use and eliminated a prohibition against manufacturers entering into agreements to prevent the sale or distribution of imported products.

But a program cannot be created unless the secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services certifies to Congress that the imports don’t threaten the health and safety of the American public and would reduce costs. Such a certification has not happened.

“Sixteen years this has been on the books, and yet it has never been put into practice,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said the changes would also help reduce the amount of money the state spends on drugs for prisoners. A federal judge in November ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to begin treating all prison inmates who test positive for hepatitis C virus with next-generation medications.

It’s estimated that between 20 to 40 percent of the 100,000 people in Florida state prisons have the hepatitis C virus. Treatment can cost $20,000.

The governor was accompanied in The Villages by House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew.

Oliva has made lowering health-care costs a top priority for the next two years. He has taken aim at Florida hospitals for being the primary drivers of increased costs and has pushed to eliminate regulations that he says give hospitals an unfair advantage over other health-care facilities, such as ambulatory surgical centers.

“There are tremendous efforts on behalf of interest groups to keep things as they are,” Oliva said. “And it takes the courage of the people that you all send up to Tallahassee to make a difference. So I can finally say, ‘We are all here and we’re going to make a difference.’ ”