US to set up plan allowing prescription meds from Canada

President Donald Trump speaks about kidney health accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar left in Washington

President Donald Trump speaks about kidney health accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar left in Washington

The Trump administration took a step Wednesday toward allowing importation of medicines from Canada, an action the president has advocated as a way to bring cheaper prescription drugs to Americans, but the pharmaceutical industry was quick to resist the move.

The Trump administration - under mounting pressure to lower prescription drug prices ahead of next year's elections - announced plans Wednesday to consider allowing states to import lower-priced medications from Canada. The administration's proposal would allow states, wholesalers and pharmacists to get FDA approval to import certain medications from Canada that are also available in the U.S.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said he has had prior discussion with Canada about importation and that it would be up to the states, pharmacies and distributors, who are expected to pursue the importation through trial models, to navigate the issues.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the panel that oversees Medicare, said on Twitter that it would lower prescription drug costs.

Previous administrations had sided with the pharmaceutical industry on importation, echoing its concerns that it could expose patients to risks from counterfeit or substandard medications. In recent years, multiple manufacturers have stated (either publicly or in statements to the Administration) that they wanted to offer lower-cost versions but could not readily do so because they were locked into contracts with other parties in the supply chain.

The Pharmaceutical Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a key lobby, says importation will invite a host of problems, including importation schemes that worsen the opioid crisis or jeopardize safety.

Drug industry shares were lower slightly, with the NYSE Arca Pharmaceutical Index off 0.25 percent versus a broader flat market. It says in an emailed statement drugs coming through Canada could have originated anywhere and may not have been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

As drug prices have soared here, Americans are more open to buying drugs from Canada.

In May 2018, Azar said the prospect of importing drugs from Canada was just a "gimmick" because that country is not large enough to meet all the drug needs of the United States.

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"I'm glad to see the Food and Drug Administration taking concrete steps to allow states to import safe and affordable medicine". Azar spoke of a regulatory process lasting "weeks and months" and he also called on Congress to pass legislation that would lend its muscle to the effort, even short-circuit attempts to overturn the changes in court. "But we firmly believe the administration should focus on policies that maintain the same high standards of safety that Americans have come to rely on". He and presidential candidate Sen.

The Canadian government said this week that it plans to soon publish a final version of new regulations aimed at cutting patented drug prices that are among the highest in the world.

The importation idea has backers across the political spectrum.

Trump is supporting a Senate bill to cap medication costs for Medicare recipients and require drugmakers to pay rebates to the program if price hikes exceed inflation. For instance, it would be up to states to negotiate with Canadian authorities to allow their drugs to be sent to the U.S., said Azar.

The agency also said that it would allow drugmakers to bring drugs that they sell more cheaply in foreign countries into the United States for sale here, potentially enabling them to sell below their contracted prices in the U.S.

The same medicines are often cheaper in other countries than in the US since most developed countries negotiate with drugmakers to set prices.

Some experts have been skeptical of allowing imports from Canada, partly from concerns about whether Canadian suppliers have the capacity to meet the demand of the much larger US market.

But consumer groups have strongly backed the idea, arguing that it will pressure USA drugmakers to reduce their prices.

But it will likely take a while before these lower-priced medications find their way into patients' hands.

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