In an effort to curb rising healthcare costs in Florida, lawmakers are pushing to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean is sponsoring a Senate Bill (SB 1528) that would create a program to import wholesale medication from Canadian suppliers. He said some drugs are considerably cheaper in Canada.
“Maybe you have fibromyalgia and you’re taking a drug called Lyrica. We pay $6.04 per pill in Florida, but yet in Canada they pay 63 cents,” he said. “If you have multiple sclerosis, you may take a drug called Tecfidera. In Canada that costs $11.92 per dose. We pay 1,000 percent more, $119.24.”
Under the bill, which cleared its first committee with a vote of 8-2 Monday, a vendor would be chosen to administer the Canadian Drug Importation Program. This vendor would develop a list of prescription drugs that have the highest savings and identify and contract with eligible Canadian suppliers.
Bean, the Senate’s top Health-care writer, said Canada’s health agency already has safeguards in place.
“Health Canada does inspections of the facility that make the drugs up there,” he said. “There’s random drug testing as Health Canada will actually test batches of drugs to make sure they’re exactly what the manufacturer says they are to the potency standards [of the US].”
Critics worry the plan could exacerbate shortages of drugs in Canada, but Bean contends Floridians would only get certain medicines.
The drugs must meet U.S. safety standards, not violate U.S. patent laws, and generate savings. The bill also prohibits controlled substances, drugs that are injected, and certain biological products outright.
Opponents also raised of possibility of counterfeit drugs. Don Bell, a former Canadian officer and border patrol agent, said he’s concerned the measure could create a loophole that smugglers will exploit to traffic counterfeit medicine into Florida.
“Criminals will attempt to reap significant elicit profits from such a loophole. This will significantly increase the black market for counterfeit prescription drugs and endanger Florida consumers,” he said. “Canadian authorities and law enforcement are neither resources nor structured to guarantee the safety of transnational drug shipments.”
Bean said his bill would give the vendor the authority to shut down the program should there be suspicious activity.
He introduced the bill after Gov. Ron DeSantis floated the idea earlier this year. A companion House Bill (HB 19) that would need to be reconciled with the Senate version cleared its second committee last week.
"I think it has the potential to distrupt the entire market where we see a price change even in our own market," said Bean. "So that's the purpose of setting this program."
If Florida lawmakers adopt the legislation, creating the program would still need approval from the federal government.