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Reducing the cost of prescription drugs is something that greatly concerns me, especially because I serve on the Legislature’s Health & Human Services committee. Many of us have heard about how much cheaper prescription drugs are in Canada compared to the United States, and I occasionally get asked the question about what can done legislatively to import these drugs from Canada. Well, now there is some hope out on the horizon. So, today I would like to report about what is being done to make prescription drugs from Canada available to customers in the United States.
The State of Vermont is now leading the way. Last Wednesday Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont signed a bill which could soon make Canadian drugs available to the citizens of Vermont. The citizens of Vermont won’t have immediate access to these Canadian drugs, though. This is because the new law directs the Agency of Human Services, Vermont’s version of a Health & Human Services committee, to design a workable program by January 1, 2019. The program would designate a wholesaler, certified by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, who would import and distribute the drugs to pharmacies around the state. The drugs would also have to pass FDA standards for safety and effectiveness. Unfortunately, citizens from other states won’t be allowed to purchase any of these drugs.
Does all of this sound just too good to be true? Well, maybe. There are still a number of hurdles that lawmakers in Vermont will need to clear before access to Canadian drugs can become a reality in their state. Standing directly in their way is the federal government.
The biggest hurdle to clear is the federal government of the United States. Just because lawmakers in Vermont made a new law does not mean that the feds would have to play along. For instance, there is no mandate requiring the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to certify Vermont’s wholesaler, nor is there any mandate requiring the FDA to approve Canadian drugs for sale anywhere in the United States.
The origin of the drugs is another problem. The feds worry that a wholesaler would have no way of verifying that the drugs were actually manufactured in Canada instead of some other country such as China or Mexico. Add into the mix the current opioid crises, and you can see why the feds are wary about Vermont’s new law. Because the Canadians currently do not manufacture enough drugs to supply every pharmacy in America, the feds worry about the threat of non-Canadian, foreign-made drugs crossing our borders.
When he campaigned for President, Donald Trump talked about importing drugs from Canada and railed against the profits of the pharmaceutical companies. However, when President Trump released his plan for lowering the cost of prescription drugs earlier this month, it did not include a plan for importing drugs from Canada.
Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any other country in the world. The average American spent $1,162 for prescription drugs in 2015, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By way of comparison, citizens in the United Kingdom paid only $497. That’s less than half of what we paid!
Be assured that lawmakers in Nebraska are keeping an eye on Vermont. If Vermont succeeds in obtaining these Canadian drugs, you can expect other states to follow suit. The bottom line, though, is that the price of prescription drugs for sale in America must come down. For many of us, our lives depend upon it!