Canadian ambassador tells White House drug import plan unworkable, not enough supplies

Canadian pharmaceuticals
The acting Canadian ambassador to the U.S. told White House officials in a recent meeting that drug importation won't lower drug prices. (Shutterstock)

Canada’s acting U.S. ambassador told high-ranking Department of Health and Human Services officials that the country’s market is too small to satisfy America’s demands for cheaper drugs.

Acting Ambassador Kirsten Hillman met with Joe Grogan, White House director of the Domestic Policy Council, and other White House officials on Nov. 1. Canada offered the strongest rebuke yet to the White House’s plan to let states and wholesalers import cheaper drugs from the country.

“Canada’s market for pharmaceuticals is too small to have any real impact on U.S. drug prices,” Hillman said in a readout Friday of the meeting. “Canada represents only 2% of global pharmaceutical consumption vs America’s 44%.” 

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Back in July, HHS and the Food and Drug Administration released a proposal to enable states, wholesalers and pharmacists to get federal approval to import drugs from Canada and several states such as Florida are moving forward with importation laws. The proposal would also enable drug companies to offer their products at a lower price than what their current distribution contracts require in order to compete with an imported drug price.

However, the administration has not released any proposed rules yet for the importation plan.

But Canada has always been skeptical of any proposals of importing prescription drugs, which are cheaper due to the country’s single-payer healthcare system. The Canadian government issued a statement in July saying that the country’s highest priority is protecting its drug supply.

Hillman cited a 2019 study that said if only 40% of the U.S. prescriptions were “filled using Canadians sources, the Canadian drug supply would be exhausted in 118 days.”

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The ambassador’s meeting comes as the Trump administration is ramping up its efforts to allow importation. The Office of Management and Budget received on Nov. 1 a proposed rule on importation from HHS. However, it remains unclear how the proposed rule would structure importation and what kinds of limitations would be on it.

During a speech in Florida last month on a Medicare Advantage executive order, Trump himself teased approval of Florida’s importation plan. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is “going to have some big surprises,” Trump said during the speech. “We’ll be announcing that pretty soon.”

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