Plan to import cheaper Canadian drugs advances under Trump

FILE - In this June 15, 2018, file photo, pharmaceuticals are seen in North Andover, Mass. The Trump administration is moving ahead with its plan to allow Americans to safely and legally get access to lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, DC – The Trump administration, eager to show progress on prescription drug costs, on Wednesday moved forward with its plan to allow Americans to safely and legally get access to lower-priced medicines from abroad.

But patients are unlikely to see quick relief on prices, even in states such as Florida that are pursuing their own import plans. Meanwhile, major legislation to lower costs for seniors has gotten bogged down in a Congress consumed by the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Canadian officials have also raised questions, saying their country's prescription drug market is too small to have any real impact on U.S. prices.

In Washington, U.S. health officials unveiled a proposed regulation that would allow states to import many brand name drugs from Canada, with federal oversight. A second draft plan would let pharmaceutical companies seek approval to import their own drugs, from any country.

It's unclear if either pathway will be available to patients ahead of the 2020 election, although the Trump administration has advanced beyond its predecessors in trying to set up a supervised system for importing drugs. Medicines cost less in other advanced countries because the governments take an active role in setting prices.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Florida on Wednesday to promote the plan with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Earlier this year, DeSantis signed a bill intended to allow pharmacies and wholesalers in his state to import drugs from Canada, for patients covered by government programs like Medicare.

There are still some hurdles before Florida can start, the governor acknowledged on Wednesday.

“This is not easy stuff,” DeSantis said. More work is needed, “but I'd much rather be here moving forward than on the sidelines chirping,” he added.