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Canadian Drug Importation Continues Advancing

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.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to allow the state to import drugs from Canada is moving ahead in the Legislature, though some lawmakers say there has been a sustained effort to try to stop the plan. 

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday became the latest panel to approve a proposal (SB 1528) that would authorize the state to ask the federal government to approve the importation program.

DeSantis has championed the legislation as a way to curb prescription drug costs. But his effort continues to draw opposition from representatives of the pharmaceutical industry who say importing drugs could increase the amount of unsafe and counterfeit drugs.

Mark Delegal, a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, told senators Tuesday that they can lower prescription drug costs in other ways, including cracking down on pharmacy benefit managers that, he said, don’t pass along savings and rebates to consumers.

“People are watching you,” he said. “Counterfeiters are watching you. The public is watching you. And when you give a green light to this Canadian system, it’s going to change public conduct. They are going to go out and start saying, “Hey, this has been green-lighted.’ And all the counterfeiters will pop up and begin to make their products available.”

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee added two amendments to the bill, one of which deleted a proposed requirement that Canadian suppliers export drugs “at prices that will provide cost savings to the state.”

Chairman Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican and sponsor of the bill, said the federal government wouldn’t approve the program if there weren’t cost savings and that the language was redundant and unnecessary.

But Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, pressed Bean about eliminating the requirement, noting that savings are her top priority. Passidomo said she wants to make sure that the program ‘bears fruit” and that it doesn’t just create an opportunity for the “middleman.”

DeSantis has made the creation of a drug-importation program a top health care priority since taking office in January. DeSantis on Monday made a trip to Sun City Center, a well- known retirement community outside Tampa to rally support for the proposal.

DeSantis was joined by Bean, House sponsor Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew, who would be charged with carrying out the program.

The House is poised Wednesday to debate its version of the bill (HB 19) on the House floor. The House version would establish two drug-importation programs. One would apply to state government programs and would be run by the Agency for Health Care Administration. The other program would be known as the International Drug Importation Program and would be run by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and more geared to consumers.

The Senate version of the bill differs in that it would establish one program to allow drug importation from Canada. If the federal government signed off, the Senate bill also would require the program to come back to the Legislature for final approval before it could be implemented. The House bill would not require final legislative approval before implementation.

Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, noted that he had been heavily lobbied on the bill and called it controversial. But at the end of the day, Hooper said the costs of “prescription drugs are way too high in this country,” and not enough is being done to bring down the costs.