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Canadian Drug Importation Program Heads To DeSantis' Desk — And Then It's On To Federal Approval

Ryan Dailey

The Florida Legislature has passed a proposal to import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. The measure will now land on the governor’s desk, and from there it will still require federal approval.

Governor Ron DeSantis has long been a proponent of the plan, and will almost certainly sign it into law. When he does, it will need a greenlight from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Two main programs would be created by the bill. Senator Aaron Bean is the measure’s principle backer in his chamber.

“When it came through Health Policy, we were really only focusing on the Canada program,” Bean explained last week, “Now, when we marry up with the House, we have that International program. as you know, the International program needs a little more help from the federal government to initiate such a program.”

The two programs would differ in what groups of Floridians they serve.

The proposed Canadian importation program would be housed under the state Agency for Healthcare Administration – which oversees Medicaid. It would be intended to serve what some legislators refer to as “vulnerable populations.” That includes Medicaid patients, inmates in the Department of Corrections and those getting medications from the Department of Health.

Democratic Senator Bobby Powell questions whether those people will ultimately get a raw deal.

“This pilot program is indeed a pilot program with specific carve-outs for vulnerable populations,” Powell said. “And I think that, Senator Bean, we talked about the opportunities for counterfeiting, we talk about testing, we talked about a number of things – those things are things we have to keep in mind.”

Powell went on to vote down on the bill, questioning the price of savings when the health risks are unknown.

“I too would like for drug prices here in the state to be reduced, but at what cost? I think if we risk anyone’s life, it’s a cost that’s too high,” Powell said.

The other program created by the measure would be for use by anyone in the state, and it’s not limited to Canadian imports. It creates the International Prescription Drug Importation Program, which would be housed under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Vendors in countries under the International program must hold what’s called an international export pharmacy permit, created by the bill under DBPR. If a foreign manufacturer holds the permit, they’re subject to inspection by the agency.

Republican Senator Gayle Harrell says she feels the Senate had the bill right in its original form – but still voted up on it.

“I think Senator Bean had the perfect bill, Harrell said, “the Senate bill was the perfect bill.”

It was the provision that gives guidelines for tracking individual prescriptions that inspired Harrell’s confidence.

“The reason I am going to vote for this is because of the track and trace elements that are in it. I think we have a responsibility to protect our citizens, our patients here in Florida,” Harrell said. “And we’ve done that really carefully by putting into this bill the tack and trace elements.”

Both of the measure’s proposed programs are subject to federal approval. Bean says that greenlight will function as an extra level of vetting for safety.

“What this bill will do is just simply ask permission from the federal government to launch this program. The program’s not coming back if it’s not safe,” Bean said. “Don’t tell me it’s not going to be safe – because if it’s not safe it won’t come back.”

In closing before the bill’s final vote in his chamber, Bean said the competition introduced by his bill will drive savings at the pharmacy going forward.

“We know that if there’s a choice out there — taxpayers, they’re always going to choose in the best interest of themselves,” Bean said. “We know that if there’s competition going, we know that providers are going to work to earn the state’s business and our constituents’ business. They’re going to hustle, and we’re all winners in that same respect.”

Under the bill, DBPR must work with the state Department of Health to create a pilot program for importing the drugs.

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.