How Florida's Plan To Import Medicine From Canada Could Work : Shots - Health News A new law would let the state make bulk purchases of prescription drugs from Canada. But it still faces hurdles that could keep it from becoming reality.
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Florida Wants To Import Medicine From Canada. But How Would That Work?

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Florida Wants To Import Medicine From Canada. But How Would That Work?

Florida Wants To Import Medicine From Canada. But How Would That Work?

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill last week for importing prescription drugs from Canada. The signing was held at the Villages, a huge retirement community outside Orlando.

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RON DESANTIS: We want people in Florida to be able - if you have the same exact drug here and in Canada and it's half the price in Canada, you should be able to buy it there and have them send it here to Florida.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin looked into how the plan will actually work.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: The Florida law imagines setting up a program to buy drugs from Canada in bulk. Here's Trish Riley, the executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.

TRISH RILEY: The state would contract with a wholesaler in Canada who would provide certain high-cost drugs that the state identifies to a wholesaler in Florida.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So I, a Floridian who needs a prescription, would just go to my pharmacy, pick up my medicine as usual. All the importing from Canada is at the wholesale level happening in the background. This is not Floridians clicking around Canadian online pharmacies or driving across the border. It's a big-scale, institutional kind of plan. Florida is the third state to pass this kind of law, joining Vermont and Colorado. In addition...

RILEY: There have been 27 different bills proposed across the country this year. I mean, states are very much frustrated by the incredibly high costs of drugs. So I think this is very much a bipartisan issue of urgency at the state level.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The idea has caught fire, perhaps because those cheaper drugs just across our northern border are just too tempting. Canada negotiates their drug prices.

RACHEL SACHS: In the United States, we choose to give the pharmaceutical companies a lot of power in setting the prices that the government will pay.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Rachel Sachs, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, says that before Florida can get in on those lower Canadian drug prices, there are a lot of hurdles to clear.

SACHS: First, we need to see a more detailed plan from the state. And then we need that plan to be approved by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: In the 15 years since it's been possible for the federal HHS secretary to OK a plan like this, it's never been done. The current secretary, Alex Azar, called the idea a gimmick in a speech last year, though President Trump has since urged him to work with Florida on the plan. If Florida gets that federal approval, Canada and pharmaceutical companies would need to help make the plan a reality, and that might be hard. Pharma companies stand to lose money. They've been running scary ads.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Want a law that could flood Florida with dangerous, uninspected drugs.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Canada isn't enthused about this idea either, though Steve Morgan, a professor of health policy at the University of British Columbia, says at this point, they're not too concerned.

STEVE MORGAN: As a consequence of the sort of money to be made by way of being a middleman in the United States, I don't think you're going to see institutional purchasers suddenly shopping in Canada. They will be able to get better prices by negotiating continuous discounts right there in the United States.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: To that point, here's what Governor DeSantis told the room full of seniors gathered for the signing of the drug importation bill.

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DESANTIS: It's interesting. Since we've passed this bill, some of the American companies have already come to us saying, hey, we're willing to deal and give you better prices already.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So maybe you don't have to actually bring drugs in from Canada to get lower prices; you can just threaten to. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

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