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Florida’s import drug plan gets nod from Trump in orders addressing prescription costs

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) joins President Donald Trump at an event Friday, July 24, 2020, to sign executive orders on lowering drug prices in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex in Washington.

(The Center Square) – President Donald Trump cancelled the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican leaders in Florida had lobbied hard to secure.

Trump offered the governor and Republican state lawmakers a consolation of sorts Friday by inviting DeSantis and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, to the White House to witness him sign four executive orders that address prescription drug costs.

One of the four orders is similar to a 2019 bill adopted by the Florida Legislature that creates a state-backed program to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, one of the first priorities DeSantis announced after assuming office last January.

DeSantis convinced the Legislature to approve House Bill 19, which created three prescription drug importation programs:

• The Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program managed by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA);

• Tthe International Prescription Drug Importation Program managed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR);

• A pilot program run by the Florida Department of Health and DBPR.

Under HB 19, AHCA would contract with a vendor to “identify Canadian suppliers in compliance with that country’s regulations.”

Florida lawmakers earmarked $20.4 million in the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget to hire a contractor to get Florida’s prospective Canadian drug-importation program off the ground.

The entire program, however, depends on receiving prerequisite approval and rule-making by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), which was not receptive to state-based drug important programs until DeSantis convinced Trump to get involved.

The state’s proposal still has not been approved, but with Trump’s executive order authorizing “personal importation,” it is likely to get off the ground sooner rather than later.

A prescription drug import program is “something that Ron and I have been discussing from the time Ron got elected, and I’ve been wanting to do it,” Trump said. “So you’re going to be getting massive drug savings in Florida and other states. And we’ve had numerous states that wanted to do it. Ron really was at the forefront.”

“When we started the legislative session in Florida in 2019, our speaker of the House, Jose Oliva, here with me, he had a big health care agenda,” DeSantis told reporters. “He really wanted to do something big on prescription drugs. But I told Jose, ‘Listen, we’ve got to find a way where we will actually be able to accomplish something. I don’t want to just throw a flare up there and then virtue signal that we’re doing some about drugs, and nothing works.’ ”

DeSantis said Florida’s proposed importation program, which enjoyed bipartisan support and Trump’s support for it, overcame a massive lobbying effort by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and other GOP-aligned groups.

“Not everyone was in favor of you doing it,” DeSantis told Trump. “You had a lot of people saying don’t do it. But you were laser-focused on lowering drug prices for people, particularly our seniors in the state of Florida. The people of Florida want to thank you for siding with us on this.”

Trump’s other executive orders include a one-month ultimatum for drug manufacturers to propose alternatives to a pending proposal to cap U.S. drug prices based on what drug makers charge in foreign countries, revive a stagnated plan to eliminate rebates drug-makers pay insurers and force certain health centers to pass negotiated discounts on insulin and EpiPens.

Trump said the measures will pass “giant discounts” onto consumers and bypass “middlemen making a fortune.”

“I can tell you, I probably know them very well,” he said. “I probably see them in Palm Beach.”

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