Health Secretary pushes plan for drug imports to lower prescription costs

'We want to shake up the system'
Posted at 7:20 PM, Dec 18, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- David Jacobsen believes getting old can take a lot of work. The Tallahassee resident, now in his 70s, feels his health has gone a bit downhill, recently.

Meanwhile, his healthcare costs have gone up. Even with good insurance, high prescription drug prices mean Jacobsen is paying about $1,000 out of pocket, each year.

“That’s just not fair," Jacobsen said. "We need to get in line with European countries.”

For years, nations overseas have enjoyed lower costs for prescription drugs while prices in America surged. But, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar suggests change is coming.

“We want to shake up the system," the Trump appointee said. "The system isn’t working for the American people.”

Azar joined Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the capitol Wednesday to promote a new plan allowing states to, with federal oversight, import brand name drugs selling for less up north in Canada. Pharmaceutical companies could also get approval to bring in their own drugs, from any country.

“We can safely bring the same drugs that Canadians are getting in Canadian pharmacies, here into the United States,” the secretary said.

The plan would exclude things like insulin — and other injections. It also won’t happen overnight. Weeks of public comment come first.

“President Trump reiterated to me just this morning, when we spoke on the phone, he wants this to happen as soon as possible," Azar said. "He wants savings for Floridians. Savings for our seniors— as soon as possible. We’re going to move heaven and earth.”

Florida is one of four states to pass bills allowing medication imports. Though more policy may be needed to comply, federal officials say that legislation will help them hit the ground running if the new rules take effect.

Despite the remaining work, Gov. DeSantis called it progress.

“I’d much rather be here, moving forward than the sidelines chirping and saying ‘why doesn’t somebody do something about it?’” DeSantis said.

Critics worry Canada doesn’t have the market to support American demand. Others are concerned drug safety still won’t be guaranteed.

While Jacobsen wasn't sure he'd support the import plan, he was certain it’s past time to act.

“We all need to have lower drug prices,” he said. “It’s got to change.”