Closer to cheaper pre­scrip­tions

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris­tine Sex­ton News Ser­vice of Florida

Florida is work­ing to get cheaper pre­scrip­tion drugs from Canada and other coun­tries, but it’s not a done deal. Gov. Ron DeSan­tis signed into law Tues­day a mea­sure that gives the state the go-ahead to pur­sue ap­proval to im­port medicine. But one U.S. Rep. called it the “sil­li­est thing I have ever heard of ” and pre­dicted it wouldn’t be ap­proved.

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE – Gov. Ron DeSan­tis, act­ing on one of his top pri­or­i­ties dur­ing his first year in of­fice, signed into law Tues­day a mea­sure that gives the state the go-ahead to pur­sue ap­proval to im­port pre­scrip­tion drugs from Canada and other coun­tries.

But the Repub­li­can gover­nor ac­knowl­edged at a bill­sign­ing cer­e­mony that the pro­gram won’t be up and run­ning any time soon be­cause of a re­quire­ment that it re­ceive ap­proval from fed­eral author­i­ties, in­clud­ing U.S. Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Alex Azar.

“We are al­ready work­ing di­rectly with Health and Hu­man Ser­vices at the fed­eral level, and I’m go­ing to be talk­ing with the pres­i­dent next week maybe more about it,” DeSan­tis said. “We en­vi­sion maybe this tak­ing ‘til next year for us to do it.”

DeSan­tis, who won the gover­nor’s race with the sup­port of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, has in­sisted his close re­la­tion­ship would help win over skep­ti­cal fed­eral of­fi­cials who have re­fused to en­dorse sim­i­lar pro­pos­als from other states.

U.S. Rep. Donna Sha­lala, a Mi­ami-Dade County Demo­crat and a for­mer Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­re­tary, said the plan was the “sil­li­est thing I have ever heard of ” and called it “pure pol­i­tics.”

She also pre­dicted it wouldn’t be ap­proved.

“No Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­re­tary has ever ap­proved the im­por­ta­tion of drugs be­cause of safety,” Sha­lala, who led the agency un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, told re­porters at the Florida Demo­cratic Party’s an­nual Lead­er­ship Blue event in Or­lando.

The new law would al­low Florida to es­tab­lish Cana­dian and in­ter­na­tional drug-im­por­ta­tion pro

grams. The Cana­dian pro­gram would be un­der the aus­pices of the state Agency for Health Care Ad­min­is­tra­tion and would be fo­cused on im­port­ing drugs for pro­grams such as Med­i­caid, the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions and county health de­part­ments.

The Agency for Health Care Ad­min­is­tra­tion would be re­quired to sub­mit what is known as a “waiver” re­quest to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to move ahead with the pro­gram no later than July 2020.

The sec­ond pro­gram, an in­ter­na­tional drug im­por­ta­tion pro­gram, would be geared to the broader state pop­u­la­tion and would be es­tab­lished un­der the De­part­ment of Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sional Reg­u­la­tion.

DeSan­tis signed the bill into law Tues­day at The Vil­lages, a sprawl­ing re­tire­ment com­mu­nity in Cen­tral Florida. The Vil­lages also was the site of a news con­fer­ence that DeSan­tis held to an­nounce his ini­tial pro­posal. At both events, DeSan­tis was joined by House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Mi­ami Lakes Repub­li­can who was a key player in pass­ing the bill. Oliva praised DeSan­tis for sup­port­ing the mea­sure de­spite tremen­dous lob­by­ing ef­forts by “big pharma,” which Oliva called the ‘great­est force in Amer­ica.”

“The gover­nor never flinched once. Ev­ery­one lob­bied up,” Oliva told the crowd. “Tal­la­has­see was in­un­dated with spe­cial in­ter­ests. Not once did he shake. And we were able to get this bill done.”

While ef­forts to kill the leg­is­la­tion in Florida were un­suc­cess­ful, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­ter­ests have vowed to lobby against the plan in Washington, D.C.

Sha­lala, how­ever, said it wasn’t just about get­ting the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to agree to the plan. Canada also would have to agree to work with Florida, and the chances of that hap­pen­ing, Sha­lala said, are nil.

Canada ne­go­ti­ates with drug com­pa­nies to cover costs of medicines for Cana­di­ans only.

“The drug com­pa­nies have not given Canada permission when they do the ne­go­ti­a­tions to in­clude mil­lions of Florid­i­ans in their num­bers. Canada would have to pay more if they wanted to in­clude some group be­yond Canada. They’re not go­ing to do it be­cause they’re not go­ing to in­crease their own health­care costs to take care of Florid­i­ans,” she said.

While Sha­lala’s crit­i­cisms were made at a Demo­cratic Party event, the plan also has been crit­i­cized by con­ser­va­tives. There are ques­tions about whether Canada would per­mit its lower-cost drugs to be sold in the U.S. in the first place and how much a new reg­u­la­tory frame­work for for­eign drugs might cost Florida tax­pay­ers.

One of the new pro­grams is for state-funded en­ti­ties such as Med­i­caid and the prison sys­tem and the other in­volves im­port­ing drugs to be sold di­rectly to con­sumers through phar­ma­cies. The sec­ond faces more fed­eral gov­ern­ment hur­dles in or­der to be­come law.

Ver­mont last year be­came the first state in the na­tion to en­act a pre­scrip­tion-drug im­por­ta­tion law but it has not sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion to the fed­eral health agency. Congress in 2003 en­acted a law per­mit­ting states to im­port drugs sub­ject to fed­eral ap­proval, but none have done so yet.


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