Despite some early policy roadbumps, the Senate’s health care budget panel is waving through more healthcare priority bills backed by the Florida House, chief among them a plan endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow importing drugs from Canada.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services voted unanimously Tuesday evening to advance several bills, including CS/SB 1712, a more limited version of a proposed repeal of the state's certificate-of-need system which oversees how healthcare facilities can build or expand services. The panel also — after some debate — unanimously voted to advance the prescription drug importation proposal, CS/SB 1528, that would allow prescription drugs to be imported from America’s northern neighbor in an effort to provide a cheaper alternative for Floridians.
Advocates, including the governor, have said the plan would curb ballooning prescription drug costs, though opponents — including a phalanx of pharmaceutical industry interests that have lobbied publicly against the bill — have said the importation idea could enable more counterfeit and dangerous drugs. They have also pointed to indications that the federal government, which has not yet authorized any state-level importation program since the option became available in 2003, remains hesitant about allowing such a program. DeSantis had claimed that political ally President Donald Trump is amenable to the idea.
The Senate version approved Tuesday would enable the state to ask the federal government for permission to create a program for importing drugs from Canada, under a 2003 federal law that gives them the authority to approve or deny such a move. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, would also require the Legislature to authorize the program again in the event it is greenlighted, a process that could take a few years.
The Senate bill was also amended to remove a provision that would require Canadian exporters to sell drugs at prices that would ensure the state saved money. Bean, who said the amendment was crafted with Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said there were concerns the provision could be construed as an unneeded mandate and that any application to federal authorities for approving the program would need to demonstrate cost savings anyway.
But Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who eventually voted for the bill, expressed reservations about the removal of the requirement, saying she was concerned that “middlemen” might be able to siphon away savings from patients.
The bill has one more stop before it can be heard by the full Senate, where it may face more opposition — Senate President Bill Galvano has said he has some concerns about key differences that still exist in the House’s proposal. Among them is how the importation program would be structured: though the Senate plan outlines one general program for drugs from Canada, the House version outlines a first pathway specifically for state-bought drugs from Canada alongside a second route that would permit international drugs generally to be imported by private entities beyond the state.
The House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, is expected to be considered on the floor Wednesday.
DeSantis has in recent days reiterated his support for the bill: He traveled to Sun City Center on Monday to whip up support with Bean, Leek and his newly appointed leader of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration Mary Mayhew, calling on Floridians to contact lawmakers and urge them to support the advancing legislation.