Dear Readers,

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to the lives of everyone in Tampa Bay and to so many businesses in our community. Here at the Tampa Bay Times, we continue to provide free, up-to-date information at as a public service. But we need your help. Please consider supporting us by subscribing or donating, and by sharing our work. Thank you.

  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

With federal approval looking more likely, Florida officials push ahead with Canadian drug importation

The state Agency for Health Care Administration submitted a concept plan to federal officials this week broadly outlining the plan xx program to import drugs from America’s northern neighbor,
Medicine bottles move along a conveyor belt at a mail-in pharmacy warehouse in Florence, N.J. Florida officials are pushing ahead with a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, as federal approval looks more likely. [Associated Press]

A month after federal health officials signaled they would reverse course and plan to open up prescription drug importation by states and businesses from abroad, Florida officials are pushing ahead with a plan they say could save the state about $150 million by bringing in medications from Canada alone.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration submitted a concept plan to federal officials Wednesday broadly outlining a potential program to import drugs from America’s northern neighbor, part of seeking approval for bringing in drugs from other countries. Though the 28-page plan largely details the structure of the state’s potential program, which would hire a vendor to oversee the program and eligible drugs and suppliers, it suggests the state could save more than $150 million in part through bringing in cheaper drugs for diseases like HIV.

That estimate, according to the plan, does not include drugs obtained through government programs that already offer deep discounts like Medicaid supplemental rebate programs. The overall Medicaid program, run by AHCA, accounts for more than $3 billion of the state’s spending on prescription drugs. The importation plan also excludes various classes of drugs that are inhaled or injected rather than consumed, as well as controlled substances or biological products, such as insulin.

Though it has been illegal to import prescription drugs from Canada, many Americans do so regardless — and federal officials largely have not enforced the ban. Canadian drugs are cheaper in part because its government limits how much pharmaceutical companies can charge, unlike the U.S.

Florida became one of now four states — including Vermont, Colorado, and Maine — whose legislatures have approved pursuing importation programs from Canada, though none have yet been fully green-lighted by federal officials.

HB 19, the bill passed by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis into law earlier this year, authorizes state health officials to pursue three pathways for bringing medication in from different countries, including Canada, and asks for federal approval in some cases. It cites the federal 2003 Medicare Modernization Act that gave federal officials the power to sign-off on state plans to import prescription drugs, though no state has yet received such approval in the 16 years since the bill was passed.

The bill was bitterly opposed by pharmaceutical interests, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and ads calling the proposals ineffective and unsafe.

Even if federal approval is granted for the proposed program, it will have to go back before state lawmakers. Under the bill, the Legislature must approve funding for it and another pathway described in the bill next year.