While it’s still unclear how consumers will see the benefits, the Trump administration plan that would allow Americans to legally and safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada is a welcome change in policy.
The decision this week comes amid a public outcry (and has been an ongoing political issue from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders) over high prices for life-sustaining medications. The details of how the importation would work still need to be worked out. The plan has to go through time-consuming regulatory approval and later could face court challenges from drugmakers. And there’s no telling how Canada will react to becoming the drugstore for its much bigger neighbor, with potential consequences for policymakers and consumers there.
Last year, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed what became the nation’s first law that would allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada, but it needed federal approval. The governor this week praised the administration’s step toward making prescription drugs more affordable.
“It’s important to give credit where credit’s due: The Trump administration has taken an important step toward making prescription drugs more affordable for Americans, and they should be acknowledged for doing so,” Scott said in a statement. “Vermont has long been a leader in this area and, while there is still much more to do to give Americans full access to lower cost prescription drugs, we are pleased to have federal partners from both the executive and legislative branches who share our concern over the huge impact filling prescriptions and purchasing health insurance has on families’ checkbooks.”
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said she told the federal Health and Human Services secretary that her administration also is ready to review and help shape the new rule. Mills signed a similar law to Vermont’s last month.
“For far too long, we have had to fight the federal government tooth and nail on the issue of safe importation of quality medication — and often unsuccessfully so — which is why I am glad to see the Administration take a positive step in a new direction today,” Mills said in a statement.
This spring, Maine’s legislation drew support from several residents who said they were forgoing or taking on debt to afford medicine for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes.
Critics included the trade group representing pharmaceutical wholesale distributors and companies such as Pfizer, which raised concerns about counterfeiters in the drug industry and different drug regulations in other countries.
But supporters noted that the legislation would require the state to only import prescription drugs that meet FDA safety standards.
The U.S. drug industry is facing a crescendo of consumer complaints over prices, as well as legislation from both parties in Congress to rein in costs, not to mention proposals from the Democratic presidential contenders. Ahead of the 2020 election, Trump is feeling pressure to deliver on years of harsh rhetoric about pharmaceutical industry prices.
This week, the president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called the plan “far too dangerous” for American patients.
Most patients take affordable generic drugs to manage conditions such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. But polls show concern about the prices of breakthrough medications for intractable illnesses like cancer or hepatitis C infection, whose annual costs can run to $100,000 or much more. And long-available drugs like insulin have seen serial price increases that forced some people with diabetes to ration their own doses.
According to published reports, the leading drug industry trade group, known as PhRMA, is a powerhouse that generally gets its way with lawmakers. It spent $128 million on lobbying in 2017, according to its most recent tax filings. But pressure on the industry is rising across many fronts.
As consumers of these drugs, we need to keep that pressure up. This is one policy change that Vermonters — and the nation — need and want.
In the end, it could be more affordable to us, and save lives at the same time.