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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 importations that could worsen drug shortages. It bars the distribution of certain drugs outside of Canada if that would cause or worsen a shortage.

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

Importing drugs from abroad, particularly Canada, is a centerpiece in Trump’s plan to reduce prices, a key priority of his campaign and first term. After the President issued an executive order in July that pushed to allow such importations, the Department of Health and Human Services issued in a final rule in late September establishing a path for states and certain other entities to set up drug importation programs.

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

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

In response to the growing momentum, a trio of pharmaceutical industry groups last week filed a court challenge to importation, saying the effort would jeopardize Americans’ health and fail to reduce prices.

“The final rule fails to overcome the well-documented safety concerns regarding importation expressed for nearly two decades by previous HHS secretaries across party lines or to make any showing that the proposal would result in any—let alone significant—cost savings to American consumers,” said James Stansel, general counsel at PhRMA, the main industry 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 “gimmick” in 2018, before changing his tune.

In announcing the measures last week, Canada’s Health Ministry said it has repeatedly stated that the US rule would not do much to reduce prices in America since Canada represents only 2% of global pharmaceutical sales, while the US accounts for 44% of sales.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association has warned that the nation already suffers from drug shortages, which have grown worse during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, days before then-Democratic presidential primary contender Bernie Sanders went north with diabetes patients seeking cheaper insulin, a coalition of 15 Canadian medical professional and patient groups pressed the government to protect the country’s pharmaceutical supply.
Though it has only weeks left in office, the Trump administration has recently pushed through several measures aimed at lowering drug prices. Earlier this month, it unveiled two controversial rules that immediately sparked legal threats from the pharmaceutical industry.
One will have Medicare pay the same price for certain expensive prescription drugs as other developed nations, a “most-favored-nation price.”

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

The administration had backed away from issuing this rule last year after it was found to raise costs for senior citizens and the federal government.

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