Proposal on importing lower cost prescription drugs from Canada defeated

(KCPW News) [Audio after break] A bill that would have started Utah down the path toward importing lower-cost subscription drugs from Canada was voted down in a senate committee on Friday.

Provo Republican Rep. Norm Thurston’s House Bill 267 would have prompted an application from Utah to the Department of Health and Human Services. That agency would then determine if the process of importing lower cost Canadian drugs could be approved. Right now it is broadly illegal to import drugs into the United States.

In a Senate Committee on Friday, Rep. Thurston said his bill was about addressing the costs of prescription medications in the United States.

“Many manufacturers for many drugs charge significantly more in the U.S. than in other developed countries including most of Europe, Japan and Canada,” he said.

“And for some of the most costly drugs that price difference can be up to nine times; in the U.S. we pay nine times what they pay in Canada, which seems kind of odd because we are by far the best customer – but we’re not getting the best price,” he said.

Thurston’s bill sailed through the Utah House of Representatives earlier in the session, clearing that body on a 63-6 vote.

However on Friday the bill hit a snag.

Dana Malick of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PHRMA) told a meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that attempts to import drugs would necessarily run into problems with the US track-and-trace system, which is meant to protect supply chain security.

“Any drugs that were intended for another country – even Canada and their gold standard regulatory system – would not be compliant with the U.S. track-and-trace system,” she said. “Under federal law wholesalers believe that they then would not be able to dispense these drugs legally,” she added.

Kelvyn Cullimore, who represents BioUtah, a trade association for the Utah life sciences industry, also questioned spending money on trying out what amounts to an experiment in cost cutting.

“We’re concerned about resources being spent on a program that does not have a clear path forward,” he said. “It seems that those resources could be better spent working with industry to figure out resources and ways to actually find reductions in the costs,” Cullimore said.

In his closing remarks, though, Rep. Thurston said that the measure was a zero cost starting point for a conversation that could have profound effects for patients.

“This will literally cost us nothing,” he said. “But I also want to point out that 45 million people last year alone did not get needed medications due to cost,” Thurston said.

“If we want to talk about safety let’s talk about what high price of drugs is doing to safety,” he added.

The committee, though, wasn’t convinced and voted Rep. Thurston’s plan down on a 2-5 vote. Thurston later told The Salt Lake Tribune that he would revive the measure at a later date.

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