LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
This past week, the White House announced plans to allow bulk imports of cheaper medications from Canada to the United States. The idea is supported by both Democrats and Republicans, but it's unpopular among another group, Canadians. Emma Jacobs reports.
EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: The idea of letting Americans import drugs from Canada is getting a lot of attention in Canadian medical circles. Here's Doug Doucette, board president of the Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists...
DOUG DOUCETTE: Well, in Canada, we're quite concerned about this.
JACOBS: ...And John Adams from the patient group the Best Medicines Coalition.
JOHN ADAMS: We already have a significant problem of drug shortages.
JACOBS: After U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced Wednesday that the plan was under consideration, Canada's health minister released a noncommittal statement about, quote, "consulting with experts to better understand the implications for Canadians."
Canadians and Americans mostly get their brand-name medications from the same companies. Seema Nagpal of the organization Diabetes Canada explains the main reason they cost less in Canada is because of a federal agency called the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board.
SEEMA NAGPAL: That looks at pharmaceuticals when they come into Canada and sets a cap for the prices that those medicines can be offered here in Canada.
JACOBS: In theory, companies could rearrange things to allocate enough medications to Canada to also supply exports to the U.S. at these lower Canadian prices.
MARC-ANDRE GAGNON: Technically, it's feasible.
JACOBS: Marc-Andre Gagnon is professor of health policy at Carleton University in Canada. He thinks some of the alarm here is being stoked by the pharmaceutical companies about what would only start out as limited pilot projects for the U.S.
GAGNON: You can adapt the supply lines, stop producing drugs for the U.S. market and produce more drugs for the Canadian market.
JACOBS: But he doubts drug companies will make it easy to undercut their profits in the U.S. He thinks pharma will drag its feet on administrative steps required for reimports. But also...
GAGNON: I'm worried personally that this is an opportunity for the drug companies to artificially create shortages in order for Canada to stop exporting to the U.S. just in order to kill the proposal.
JACOBS: That would have health consequences for Canadians.
Durhane Wong-Rieger, president of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, brought up another concern. She says Canada could lose access to future medications because companies won't want to introduce newly developed drugs in Canada at all if they're going to get sent on to the U.S. and undercut what companies can charge there.
DURHANE WONG-RIEGER: Nobody's going to jeopardize their American market in order to serve a very small market to the north.
JACOBS: If Americans like Canadian-style drug regulations, she and others ask, why not change their own regulations instead of upsetting the Canadian drug market?
Again, John Adams of the Best Medicines Coalition.
ADAMS: This is a made-in-America problem that needs a made-in-America solution, not a solution imported from Canada.
JACOBS: In a statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told NPR that, quote, "it would be premature to speculate," unquote, about the impacts on any country. But in Canada, the speculation has already begun.
For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.
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