Florida Could Put Canadian Drugs on Shelves 90 Days After Federal Import Approval

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Friday that if a final approval from the Biden administration goes through to import drugs from Canada, contractors could have Canadian drugs on Florida shelves in as few as 90 days.

DeSantis has lobbied to lower prescription drug costs for Floridians for two years, and now hopes the Biden administration's approval will allow the state to import drugs from Canada, a move that DeSantis said would save tens of millions of dollars.

If the plan is approved, the state said it will start with a limited number of drug classes. Those include maintenance medications for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, mental illness for those who are under state care and HIV and AIDS.

Following that, the program would expand to drugs for all Medicaid beneficiaries.

DeSantis dismissed criticisms from lobbyist groups that opposed the plan during a press conference.

"If we were trying to bring in drugs from some country that wasn't reputable, I wouldn't want to go down that road either, but Canada has the same drugs," he said. "They have very similar protocols and then we obviously would have our process to ensure quality."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

prescription drugs being filled
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing the Biden administration to approve a program he says would save tens of millions of dollars by importing drugs from Canada. Above, a Pharmacy tech fills prescriptions. George Frey/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican governor signed a bill in 2019 allowing prescription drugs to be imported from the neighboring country, but the plan required federal approval. State health officials have been working behind the scenes to meet federal guidelines.

DeSantis also met with then-President Donald Trump in 2019, pointing out that drug costs had risen more than 150% in the past 15 years, and urging him to allow the states to pursue less expensive alternatives from other countries. DeSantis estimated the program would save the state between $80 million and $150 million.

Many people already buy at least some of their medicines from pharmacies in Canada or Mexico, although technically it's illegal to import them. The idea of allowing importation has been around for years, but previous attempts have been blocked by pharmaceutical industry lobbying and safety concerns seconded by government regulators.

In November, federal health officials issued a ruling further opening the door for states to pursue importing prescription drugs. At the time, Canada health officials also raised questions, saying their country's prescription drug market is too small to have any real impact on U.S. prices.

That same month, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and several other lobbying groups filed litigation against federal health officials challenging the new rule, accusing the federal government of punting the responsibility for demonstrating safety and cost savings to state governments.

DeSantis said the state has met every regulation required to be able to import the drugs.

"This has been under review now for six months," he said during a news conference in Lakeland. "We were told that if it wasn't denied last week that we could assume it was going to be approved."

Joel White, president of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, one of the pharmaceutical lobbying groups that sued to challenge the plan, said it "brings a false promise to Americans that it will result in lower cost."

"Providers, pharmacists and the patients they serve may no longer trust the medicines [that] they prescribe and dispense are safe and effective," White said.

Florida's Agency for Healthcare Administration has been working with the federal government to meet all its requirements for the importation and maintains the state is the first to have done so.

DeSantis held his news conference Friday at a medicine warehouse built by LifeScience Logistics in central Florida for the importation program.

No one immediately responded to emails sent to health officials in President Joe Biden's administration seeking an update on the program.

Ron DeSantis Canadian plan
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing the Biden administration to approve a program he says would save tens of millions of dollars by importing drugs from Canada. Above, DeSantis watches the foursome matches during the Walker Cup golf tournament in Juno Beach, Florida, on May 8, 2021. Brynn Anderson, File/AP Photo