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Senators Back Drug Imports To Cut State Costs

Pill bottles in a pharmacy
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Senate panel Monday moved forward with a bill that could allow the state to lower costs by importing drugs from Canada for prisoners and Medicaid patients. 

It was the first time the drug importation bill, a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, was considered by senators. But the bill approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee fell short of a plan DeSantis announced last month.

DeSantis called for a drug importation program that could benefit individual consumers, as well as state government, The Senate bill only would allow the state, not individuals, to purchase drugs from Canada.

Also, if the federal government were to endorse the plan, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration — the lead state agency for health care purchasing — couldn’t implement it without coming back for final legislative approval.

The drug importation program is a centerpiece of the DeSantis administration’s health-care policy.

His office did not immediately comment Monday on the Senate bill.

Supporters’ hope the proposal would help lower the state’s spending on drugs for prisoners, among others. Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, bemoaned last week an order requiring the state to spend $34 million for hepatitis C treatment for prisoners, an issue that had spurred a federal-court fight.

Meanwhile, the Canadian drug-importation possibility has drawn intense opposition from pharmaceutical lobbyists. On Monday afternoon, pharmaceutical lobbyists lined the wall of the committee room where the Senate bill was considered.

Noting the crowd, Senate bill sponsor Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, told committee members, “The status quo will not go quietly into the night.”

Under the proposal passed by the committee, the Agency for Health Care Administration would be required to submit a plan to the federal government for approval by July 1, 2020.

The request would have to include a list of proposed drugs that have the highest potential for cost savings to the state through importation and an estimate of the total cost savings.

The request also would have to include a list of potential Canadian suppliers from which the state would import drugs and demonstrate that the suppliers are in full compliance with Canadian federal and provincial laws and regulations as well as federal and state laws and regulations.

While the bill moved through the committee by an 8-2 vote, some members who supported the measure said they would like Bean to continue to work on improving the measure.

The House, meanwhile, is working on a similar proposal. The House measure (HB 19), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, would establish the Canadian drug importation program for the state. But it also would establish the “International Prescription Drug Importation Program,” which would be overseen by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation and would be made available to individuals.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has expressed doubts that the state should establish such an international program for residents, citing interstate commerce laws. Perhaps not surprisingly the Senate measure doesn’t include the individual program.

Another difference between the House and Senate proposals is that the House version wouldn’t require final legislative approval before implementation.