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HHS and FDA Drug Importation Idea: Important Takeaways

Alex Azar, Eli Lilly

Azar is proposing a discussion about allowing imports of single-source drugs to lower costs

Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that he was tasking FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb with forming a working group to explore how drug importation could be used to lower prices. See Gottlieb’s remarks on the proposal.

The crux of the proposal is very narrow. Azar is considering allowing imports of foreign versions of off-patent medicines that only one manufacturer (also referred to as “single-source” drugs) is selling in the U.S. market. That would be a drug without any competition where the company with the marketing license jacks the price. Keep in mind that he has simply called for a working group to discuss it.

I’m getting asked a lot of questions about this proposal and realize that many people, including well-informed journalists and policy professionals, don’t really get this.

People who already import medicines, through buying them online or carrying them home from Canada to save money may also be confused!

So, to help any and all understand what HHS and the FDA are considering when it comes to drug importation, below are some important takeaways. My general take, as noted in the Washington Post, is that it’s a step in the right direction (if it goes forward), and it could help educate the public about greater potential benefits to larger scale importation.

  • This is not legalizing buying cheaper, FDA-approved meds from retail pharmacies in Canada online or otherwise.
  • Millions of Americans already benefit from importing lower-cost, safe and effective medicines for personal use. They do this despite the existing federal prohibitions and scare tactics employed by industry-funded groups to deter such purchases. To do so safely, they stick to credentialed online pharmacies, such as those verified by PharmacyChecker.com. Today, Roger Bate, who is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote: “All the FDA has to do is allow Pharmacy Checker to do its job and tell the American people about it.”

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Trump’s Big Drug Prices Speech: Kumbaya with Importation

Trump Drug Prices SpeechToday, President Trump will be talking about drug prices and his administration’s plan to help Americans better afford prescription drugs. By permitting importation of affordable medication, the administration has a chance to really strike a populist chord and a positive one.

It’s been said that the president is going to talk about trying to force other countries, such as Canada, to raise drug prices. Instead, why not expressly allow Americans to access those lower prices through importation? It was one of the solutions offered by Trump during his campaign.

The millions of Americans, across all parties, who already import medication to fill prescriptions will wildly applaud the administration for doing so.

Can Trump use executive authority on drug prices? Yes. Under current law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, can permit individuals to import medication for personal use right now. The Secretary can also make it lawful for companies to import FDA-approved drugs at wholesale pharmacies in Canada.

America is united against high drug prices. It seems we’re only waiting for POTUS to catch up.

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Trump’s State of the Union: Drug Prices ‘Will Come Down’

“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States.There are not many issues you can hear both Republicans and Democrats clapping about in unison, but high drug prices is definitely one of them. Echoing his 2016 campaign, President Trump again proclaimed during his State of the Union address Tuesday night that his administration is determined “to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities.”

Speeding up the approval of lower-cost generics was noted by Trump as “exciting progress,” but nothing substantial has been done by the Trump administration on drug prices. The appointment of Alex Azar to head the Department of Health and Human Services department was a major disappointment. As president of Eli Lilly USA, Azar oversaw major price hikes on lifeline medications, such as insulin.

Appealing to both his base and popular opinion, President Trump could use his executive authority immediately to more expressly permit Americans to buy medication from international pharmacies.

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