A plan published Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration could allow for the importation of less expensive Canadian drugs, as well as other medications made for other countries.
The idea of importing cheaper medicine has attracted bipartisan support amid a push to control the price of prescription drugs. President Donald Trump has backed the idea, as have New Hampshire’s U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both Democrats.
Todd Fahey, New Hampshire state director of the AARP, said people across the state struggle to pay for their prescriptions, and importing medication from Canada could help.
The increased cost of prescription drugs has far outstripped growth in New Hampshire residents’ income, he said. Fahey said the average cost of prescriptions jumped 57.8 percent from 2012 to 2017. In the same period, Fahey said, the average income in New Hampshire has increased 13.2 percent.
Medications from Canada are cheaper — and New Hampshire residents might be better able to afford them, Fahey said, especially seniors on fixed incomes who take multiple prescriptions.
“Our numbers say Americans can pay double for what Canadians pay,” Fahey said.
“We can import lower-priced drugs safely, and the FDA can and should use its full authority to help American consumers,” he said. Fahey said he has seen people struggle to pay for medicine they need, and people choosing between filling a prescription, and buying food and paying rent.
Four years ago, Brittany O’Donnell of Chichester said she was forced to use less insulin than she needed because she couldn’t afford the $500 co-pay for a month’s supply.
Now 30, O’Donnell, who has Type 1 diabetes, said she never forgot those months of insulin rationing—which ended when she got a different health insurance plan.
She is now the New Hampshire chapter leader of T1 International, a Type 1 diabetes advocacy organization. Some chapter leaders in other states have been arranging trips across the Canadian border to buy insulin, she said, where it costs around a tenth of what it costs in the U.S.
Rationing insulin is risky, and could have led to diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal.
“The best way to describe it to someone who doesn’t have diabetes is like you’re coming down with the flu,” O’Donnell said of rationing insulin.
O’Donnell said she might consider a trip to Canada to buy insulin — current FDA rules let Americans bring home a 90-day supply of insulin for personal use, because insulin is available over-the-counter in Canada.
The Trump administration proposal would allow for the large-scale import of medications by wholesalers, pharmacies and even states.
Stephen Ubl, chief executive officer of pharmaceutical industry trade group PhRMA, said the importation plan could be dangerous.
“Drugs coming through Canada could have originated from anywhere in the world and may not have undergone stringent review by the FDA,” Ubl said in a statement.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said importing drugs has become more feasible because of today’s international pharmacy chains, and more robust international drug tracing.
Under a plan published Wednesday, the Trump administration will propose a rule to allow states, wholesalers or pharmacists to import certain drugs from Canada. The plan also provides guidelines to drug manufacturers who want to import versions of their drugs sold in other countries.
This year, Maine and Vermont passed state laws aimed at importing more medications from Canada. Fahey said the AARP would support similar legislation in New Hampshire, but none has been proposed.
Information from Bloomberg was used in this report.