Trump administration plans system to allow importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada

WASHINGTON DC – The Trump administration says it will set up a system allowing Americans to legally access lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the announcement Wednesday morning.

Azar, a former drug industry executive, says U.S. patients will be able to import medications safely and effectively, with oversight from the Food and Drug Administration. States, drug wholesalers and pharmacists would act as intermediaries for consumers.

The administration’s move comes as the industry is facing a litany of consumer complaints over drug prices, as well as legislation from both parties in Congress to rein in costs. President Donald Trump is supporting a Senate bill to cap medication costs for Medicare recipients.

Drug prices are lower in other economically advanced countries because governments take a leading role in setting prices. But in the U.S., Medicare is not permitted to negotiate with drug companies.

Some experts have been skeptical of allowing imports from Canada, partly from concerns about whether Canadian suppliers have the capacity to meet the demands of the much larger U.S. market.

But consumer groups have strongly backed the idea, arguing that it will pressure U.S. drugmakers to reduce their prices. They also point out that the pharmaceutical industry is a global business and many of the ingredients in medications sold in the U.S. are manufactured abroad.

AARP had pushed hard for the Florida plan, saying it’s possible to safely import lower-priced, equally effective drugs and it would promote worldwide price competition.

The drug industry lobby, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has successfully blocked past efforts in Washington to allow importation. It argues that patients would be at risk of receiving counterfeit or adulterated medications.

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