Why Florida’s Drug Importation Plan from Canada is Doomed to Fail

Florida has been given the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start importing prescription drugs from Canada in bulk, in an attempt to lower the drug prices for its residents. However, this plan is doomed to fail, as Canada does not have enough drugs to fulfill Florida’s demand, and has taken measures to protect its own drug supply and prevent shortages. In this article, we will explain the reasons and implications of Florida’s drug importation plan, and why it is not a viable solution for the U.S. drug pricing problem.

The Problem: High Drug Prices in the U.S.

The U.S. has some of the highest drug prices in the world, which puts a heavy burden on its consumers and health care system. According to the International Federation of Health Plans, the average price of a 30-day supply of Humira, a drug used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, was $2,669 in the U.S. in 2020, compared to $552 in Canada. Similarly, the average price of a 30-day supply of Harvoni, a drug used to treat hepatitis C, was $32,114 in the U.S. in 2020, compared to $15,161 in Canada.

Drug Importation
Drug Importation

The high drug prices in the U.S. are largely due to the lack of regulation and negotiation power in the U.S. market, which allows drug manufacturers to set their own prices and charge whatever the market can bear. Unlike other countries, such as Canada, the U.S. does not have a national health care system or a single-payer system that can negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers on behalf of its citizens. Instead, the U.S. relies on a complex and fragmented system of private insurers, public programs, and pharmacy benefit managers, which have limited leverage and incentives to lower drug prices.

The Plan: Bulk Importation of Drugs from Canada

Florida is one of the states that has been seeking to lower its drug prices by importing drugs from Canada, where drugs are cheaper and regulated by the government. In 2019, Florida passed a law that authorized the state to create a drug importation program, subject to the approval of the FDA. On January 5, 2024, the FDA approved Florida’s plan, making it the first state to receive such approval.

Florida’s plan involves importing select drugs from Canada in bulk, through contracted wholesalers and distributors, and then distributing them to pharmacies and health care providers in the state. The plan targets drugs that treat chronic conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, diabetes, and mental health disorders. The plan also requires the imported drugs to meet the same safety and quality standards as the U.S. drugs, and to be tested and tracked to ensure their integrity and authenticity.

Florida claims that its plan will save the state and its consumers millions of dollars per year, and will not affect the drug supply or prices in Canada. The state also claims that its plan will not pose any health or safety risks to its residents, and will comply with all federal and state laws and regulations.

The Reality: Canada’s Drug Supply and Shortage Issues

However, Florida’s plan is based on a false assumption that Canada has enough drugs to spare for the U.S. market, and that Canada will not take any action to prevent its drugs from being exported to the U.S. The reality is that Canada does not have the drugs, and has taken steps to safeguard its drug supply and ensure its availability for Canadians.

Canada is a small market that accounts for only 2% of the global drug consumption, compared to 44% for the U.S. Canada does not produce most of the drugs that it consumes, and relies on imports from other countries, mainly from the U.S. and Europe. Canada also faces frequent and severe drug shortages, which affect the health and well-being of millions of Canadians. According to Health Canada, the country’s drug regulator, there were more than 2,400 instances of drug shortage in 2023, affecting various drugs, such as antibiotics, antidepressants, and cancer drugs.

Canada has been clear in its position that bulk importation of drugs from Canada will not provide an effective solution to the problem of high drug prices in the U.S., and will only worsen the drug shortage situation in Canada. Canada has also implemented regulations under the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit certain drugs intended for the Canadian market from being sold for consumption outside of Canada, if that sale could cause or worsen a drug shortage in Canada. This includes all drugs that are eligible for bulk importation to the U.S., including those identified in Florida’s plan, or any other U.S. state’s future importation programs.

Health Canada has also informed the regulated parties, such as drug manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors, of their obligations under the Canadian regulations, and has warned them not to distribute drugs to the U.S. unless they have reasonable grounds to believe that it will not cause or worsen a shortage in Canada. Health Canada has also said that it will monitor the Canadian drug supply closely, and will not hesitate to take immediate action to address any non-compliance, such as requesting corrective measures, issuing public advisories, or taking action on the licenses of the regulated parties.

The Conclusion: A Flawed and Futile Plan

Florida’s plan to import drugs from Canada in bulk is a flawed and futile plan, as it is based on a false premise and faces multiple legal and practical challenges. The plan will not achieve its intended goal of lowering drug prices for Floridians, and will only jeopardize the drug supply and availability for Canadians. The plan will also not address the root causes of the high drug prices in the U.S., which are the lack of regulation and negotiation power in the U.S. market, and the monopoly power of the drug manufacturers.

Instead of pursuing a plan that is doomed to fail, Florida and other U.S. states should focus on finding more effective and sustainable solutions to the problem of high drug prices in the U.S., such as:

  • Implementing price controls and caps on the drugs that are essential and life-saving, and that have no generic or biosimilar alternatives.
  • Allowing Medicare and Medicaid, the public health insurance programs for the elderly and the poor, to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers for lower prices, and to use their collective bargaining power to obtain discounts and rebates.
  • Encouraging and facilitating the development and approval of generic and biosimilar drugs, which are cheaper and equivalent versions of the brand-name drugs, and increasing their market share and competition.
  • Promoting and supporting the innovation and research of new drugs, especially for the diseases and conditions that have unmet medical needs, and providing incentives and rewards for the drug manufacturers that invest in such areas.

These are some of the possible solutions that could lower the drug prices in the U.S., without harming the drug supply and availability in Canada, and without compromising the health and safety of the consumers in both countries.

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