Canada plots response to U.S. import plan after meeting with stakeholders

Canadian health officials plan to raise concerns over the U.S. drug import plan with the Department of Health and Human Services after a meeting with health stakeholders. (Shutterstock)

Canadian health officials are expected to meet soon with their U.S. counterparts to detail major concerns over a proposal to set up drug importation.  

Canadian Health Minister Petitpas Taylor had a roundtable meeting of stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum Monday to hear out how to respond to the U.S. import plan. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a plan last month to create a pilot project for states, wholesalers and pharmacists to import drugs from Canada offered at a cheaper price than in the U.S.

“Participants expressed their appreciation to the Minister for swiftly convening the group, and shared their perspectives on the importance of consistent patient access to prescription drugs as well as their concerns about anything that could lead to or worsen drug shortages in Canada,” said Health Ministry Spokesman Alexander Cohen.

Taylor is expected to speak with HHS Secretary Alex Azar in the near future to reinforce Canada’s concerns around importation on a wide scale, Cohen said. 

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One of the participants in the meeting, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, tweeted there was a consensus around the table over concerns the plan could exacerbate drug shortages.

“Our top priority is ensuring Canada’s prescription drug supply and we will take all necessary measures to safeguard the medications Canadians rely on,” Cohen said.

The Canadian healthcare industry has vociferously opposed the importation plan since its release late last month. While U.S. citizens have long crossed the border to buy cheaper drugs in Canada, the healthcare industry is worried about a larger-scale effort such as those pursued by several states.

Pharmaceutical trade group Innovative Medicines Canada said the country cannot supply prescription medications and vaccines for a market “ten times larger than its own population without jeopardizing Canadian supplies and causing shortages.”

A major concern is that Canada doesn’t have a large amount of its own pharma manufacturing and requires exports from other countries, including the U.S.

“Our allotment of medications are predetermined based on historical use,” said Joelle Walker, the Canadian Pharmacist Association’s vice president of government affairs, on a Canadian public affairs broadcast earlier this month. She added that supplies tend to be based over the past three to five years of use.

There are several avenues Canada can take to block any U.S. importation plan. For example, the Canadian parliament could pass legislation to ban exports of any pharmaceuticals to the U.S.

Parliament has flirted with such actions before. The Canadian government itself could also take steps to ban exports, but some U.S. states don’t seem deterred and even don’t want to wait for the demonstration project to be approved.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, told reporters Thursday that he wants to meet with federal officials to fast-track the state’s drug importation plan, according to a report from Vermont Public Radio. Vermont is one of four states to have passed an importation law, alongside Florida, Colorado and Maine. So far, none have been implemented yet.