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.”
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 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.