Florida House passes bill on Canadian drug imports access

Author: Associated Press
Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo via CBS News.
FILE: Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo via CBS News.

Floridians could eventually gain access to cheaper Canadian prescription drugs under legislation passed Thursday by the state House, a top priority of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The GOP-led House voted 93-22 on Thursday for the measure, which if finalized creates a prescription drug importation program that would have to be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. A similar bill is moving in the state Senate and the two versions must be reconciled to win final passage.

“The United States pays more for prescription drugs than anywhere else in the world,” DeSantis said in a statement. “In Florida, we can change that by employing safe, common sense solutions such as importing FDA approved prescription drugs from Canada.”

The chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Tom Leek of Daytona Beach, said the measure would give Floridians an opportunity to pay less for vital prescription drugs. U.S. consumers pay some of the highest prescription drug prices in the world, as much as 30% to 190% more than other Western countries, according to a legislative staff analysis.

The U.S. spends about $333 billion annually on prescription drugs, or about $10,739 per person, according to the analysis.

“We have an opportunity today to give Floridians a fighting chance,” Leek said. “I hope you can support them.”

Leek said imported drugs would have to meet strict FDA standards and has noted that 80 percent of drug ingredients used in the U.S. are foreign-made now. The House bill goes further than the Senate version in opening the door to potentially importing drugs from other countries besides Canada.

Opponents warn of risky counterfeit, contaminated, or ineffective drugs and that the program could prove costly to oversee and regulate. A number of medical groups and the pharmaceutical industry are among the leading opponents.

Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet of Tallahassee urged lawmakers to slow down.

“The concept of making sure medication is cheaper is a good one. We have to tailor it in a way that is responsible. We’re not ready for this yet,” he said. “It’s not the time to be going this big, or this far.”

There are also 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.

The bill would actually create two programs: one for state-funded entities such as Medicaid and the prison system and another in which the imported drugs would be sold directly to consumers through pharmacies. The second program faces more federal government hurdles in order to become law.

But supporters such as Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Beverly Hills, who is a physician, said the proposal is a chance worth taking.

“Why wouldn’t we do it?” he said. “This is a good start and I’m hoping other states will follow our lead.”

Vermont last year became the first state in the nation to enact a prescription-drug importation law, but it has not yet submitted an application to the federal health agency.

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