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DeSantis, Bill Backers Take Aim At Attack Ads Ripping Canadian Drug Importation Plan

Ryan Dailey

As Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposed Canadian drug importation plan looks poised to pass into law this legislative session, he and other proponents are mocking its critics as fearmongers. The Governor’s defense comes amid attack ads that are ramping up in Florida markets.

DeSantis spoke at a town hall on prescription drug costs Tuesday, hosted by the American Association of Retired Persons. The Governor took aim at the ads, running in TV markets and on social media, claiming his proposed importation program will flood the state with unvetted, counterfeit drugs

“Just think about it – like when you see some of the arguments against (the plan) … I mean, do you think I’m just going to like bring in a bunch of drugs from Pakistan off the street and just throw them in … I mean, come on.”

Other proponents of the plan, like its sponsors in the House and Senate, are hitting back. Senator Aaron Bean is the measure’s principle backer in his chamber.

“What would I do if I were drug companies charging the highest price on the planet? I would fight this at every cost,” Bean said. “I would create groups that have fancy names, but are really just drug companies saying ‘this is bad news for seniors.’ Trying to scare seniors, trying to scare families – ‘bringing in (Chinese) and illicit counterfeit drugs.’ That’s just not true, it’s not true.”

What Bean characterizes as fearmongering is something he also asserts is misguided, as the practice of importation already exists.

“40 percent of our drugs right now, in the state of Florida, come from another country already,” Bean told the town hall crowd.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Sen. Aaron Bean is the principle backer of the Senate's Canadian drug importation program bill.

As Bean’s bill has advanced through the Senate, many have travelled to Tallahassee to share stories of paying exorbitant amounts for drugs they need to simply stay alive.

Phillip Combs of Madison County spoke at the AARP town hall about getting gouged at the pharmacy.

“Even after the insurance company approved for me to take the meds – I still ended up with a co-pay of $400 a month. That’s for one drug,” Combs said. “That would be about a fourth of my monthly budget, just for one drug. And what am I to do about the other five medications that I have to do.”

And DeSantis says, because of overregulation of the industry, even generic drugs that are typically thought of as a cheaper alternative can have prices driven up.

“I used to think … the generics were cheap, and there is some truth to that,” DeSantis said. “But even the generics sometimes, if you get a monopoly on a generic, sometimes there would be drugs that have been in existence for decades – and then a company would go through the administrative process and they’d be the only ones making it, and it would be $50,000 or just something obscene.”

In closing, DeSantis told the crowd to push back on the attack ads meant to counter his plan.

“I think when you see a commercial saying ‘Call to stop the bill,’ if you call and say to pass the bill, I think that sends a very loud message for people,” DeSantis said.

Priscilla VanderVeer is vice president of public affairs for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America – also known as Pharma. She is among those who feel DeSantis’ plan represents a risk to consumers and their health.

“While I understand that folks think it’s relatively easy to set up a state program that could do the same thing as the U.S. Food and Drug administration, I think that is really potentially very naive and could really harm Floridians in a way that would be irreversible for some folks,” VanderVeer said.

VanderVeer asserts there is a misconception by the public as to how the program would function.

“What we’re talking about here are – you hear people say, we’re just buying drugs from Canada, the drugs are just meant for Canadians,” VanderVeer said. “That’s not what’s going to happen. Canada is not interested in selling the medicines that it has available for Canadians to Americans.”

Rejecting DeSantis’ claim that Canadian authorities will be able to safely vet the drugs that are directed to Florida, VanderVeer paints a bleak picture of what she says that process is like.

“They are talking about wholesale distributors in Canada, who will order these drugs from anywhere they want all over the world, who will come to Canada, they’ll slap a sticker on it that says ‘Canada,’ and then they’ll mail it to the United States,” VanderVeer said.

Even if the Florida legislature pushes the measure through, it still must be approved at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. DeSantis and proponent lawmakers seem confident the measure will get a federal greenlight. But VanderVeer doesn’t buy it.

“U.S. Health and Human Services will likely not approve this plan,” VanderVeer said. “But again, there’s always the risk that it would, and that sets up a precedent for this to happen more broadly – and someone will get hurt.”

Still, the proposal looks to be in good posture heading into the tail-end of Florida’s legislative session. The House has already passed its version of the plan, and on the Senate side the measure is prepared for a vote by the full chamber.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.