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States focus on drug importation as way to rein in drug costs  

Written by Diane Archer

Shefali Luthra reports for Kaiser Health News that states are looking at drug importation as a way to rein in prescription drug costs and encourage Congress to act to bring down drug prices throughout the nation. Even some Republican lawmakers in red states recognize that government intervention is needed because there is no free market when it comes to drug prices. They see addressing the outrageous price of prescription drugs as a non-partisan issue.

One Utah legislator wants Utah to buy drugs for the state’s health system from wholesalers in Canada. Legislators in Vermont, West Virginia and Oklahoma also are looking to pass laws that would allow their states to import drugs from Canada. Today, some 11 million Americans import drugs from abroad. Although doing so is technically illegal, no American has ever been prosecuted for importing drugs for personal use.

With a waiver from the Trump administration, states could buy drugs wholesale from abroad and then resell them to pharmacies and hospitals. Such a waiver could help states to bring down the price of drugs for their residents considerably. The drugs would be as safe as drugs available in the US; indeed, many Canadian drugs are manufactured in the same facilities by the same manufacturers as US drugs.

A 2003 federal law grants the US Department of Health and Human Services authority to permit state drug importation when the evidence suggests importation will reduce costs without jeopardizing the public health. Because of pressure from Pharma, however, HHS has never approved a state’s drug importation program. But, given that addressing prescription drug prices is the top policy priority for Americans, there is more public pressure than ever for HHS to do so.

Undoubtedly, if HHS were to approve a state’s Canadian drug importation program, pharmaceutical companies would cut Canada’s supply of drugs or otherwise penalize Canadian suppliers of drugs to the state. But, then, Congress finally might step in to regulate the price of drugs for everyone in the US, much like it has done for Veterans, and every other developed country has done for its citizens.

If you want Congress to rein in drug prices, please sign this petition.

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