With drug prices in the spotlight of our national healthcare debate, one could certainly view Amazon’s entry last year into the pharmacy space as a welcome development. After all, when it comes to upending traditional business models by undercutting their prices, Amazon is king. For Americans, the tens of millions who don’t fill prescriptions each year because of cost, relief can’t come soon enough. For Amazon to succeed, Jeff Bezos should consider teaming up with Senator Bernie Sanders. Amazon’s support for The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—to allow for the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs—would be the game changer that would have American patients cheering and the pharmaceutical industry crying.
Recent bi-partisan efforts
to bring lower-cost generic drugs to market faster are a great step in
the right direction, but they don’t infuse our captive pharmaceutical
marketplace with competition to lower prices on patented – brand name –
prescription drugs. Importation would fuel that competition. An unlikely
alliance between our country’s most successful capitalist and
trailblazing, Democratic Socialist is what we need!
This week, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed into a law HB 19 to create a state prescription drug importation program. The goal is to lower the state’s prescription drug bill and the prices Florida residents pay at pharmacy counters by importing lower-cost medicines from Canada and other countries that have similarly strict pharmaceutical regulatory standards.
The main point of this blog post is to state that this law in Florida, much like the laws that have passed in Vermont and Colorado, create WHOLESALE not PERSONAL drug importation programs.
Yesterday, the Florida House Legislature voted
93-22 passing HB 19. The bill creates programs and processes for importing
prescription drugs from Canada, as well as from other countries. HB 19 actually
calls for the creation of two programs, which I have summarized below. For a
deep dive, you should read the Staff
Analysis from the Florida House of Representatives.
Prescription Drug Importation Program (CPDIP)
If HB 19 becomes law, the Florida Agency for Health Care
Administration (AHCA) will create processes that meet the safety protocols
called for in the bill, which include inspections and testing of drugs, to
allow registered wholesale pharmacies to import from Florida-registered
Canadian wholesalers. In this program, lower drug prices will save taxpayers
money for government funded-entities, such as county health departments, free
clinics, and the Department of Corrections.
Properly licensed foreign pharmacies help Americans access
medicines that they can’t afford here. Counterfeit drug makers and sellers,
fentanyl and opioid dealers, and dangerous pharmacy websites are worthy targets
of serious regulatory or criminal enforcement actions. There’s no gray there.
An article I wrote that was recently published in The Nation hopefully brings to greater public attention the FDA’s conflation of clearly safe channels for personal prescription imports with counterfeit drugs, the opioid crisis, and rogue online pharmacies. That conflation, one associated with the media relations work of the pharmaceutical industry – is used to justify FDA enforcement actions that exacerbate the crisis of high drug prices by threatening programs that facilitate prescription fulfillment from foreign, licensed pharmacies.
Earlier this week, a report (the
“FGI Report”) opposing prescription drug importation proposals was released
by the law firm of Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan LLP and the Freeh Group International.
Both organizations are headed by former FBI Director, Louis Freeh. I’m hesitant
to criticize reports authored by dedicated Americans who spent years in public
service protecting the safety of the American people in federal law enforcement.
On the other hand, the intent of tacking the name of a venerated American
patriot on a report that mirrors
the lobbying agenda of the pharmaceutical industry is clearly being used to
deter voices opposed to that agenda.
An astounding thing happened during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices this past Tuesday. Committee Chairman Grassley asked one of the witnesses, a mother struggling with the cost of insulin for her young adult son, if she had considered importing medicine to afford it.
Think about that.
Under most circumstances, according to the FDA, it’s illegal to import medicine for personal use. And yet at a high-profile Senate committee hearing, the venerable Sen. Grassley seemed genuinely curious why Ms. Sego didn’t get lower-cost medication online from another country.