DeSantis said on Wednesday he will work with President Donald Trump on creation of the program, which would require approval from the Trump administration.
“I spoke personally to President Trump on both Sunday and Monday about this,” DeSantis told a crowd at the huge Central Florida retirement community called The Villages. “He’s not only supportive, he’s enthusiastic.”
DeSantis said his administration is working on keeping regulations — and taxes — down for Florida businesses.
“Now the biggest hurdle is paying for the health insurance,” he said. “And a lot of it is … because of the prescription drugs.”
The governor’s office didn’t release a detailed plan. But DeSantis said the program would be possible under the federal Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.
The law allows imports from Canada of prescription drugs for personal use and eliminated a prohibition against manufacturers entering into agreements to prevent the sale or distribution of imported products.
But a program cannot be created unless the secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services certifies to Congress that the imports don’t threaten the health and safety of the American public, and would also reduce costs. Such a certification has not happened.
“Sixteen years this has been on the books, and yet it has never been put into practice,” DeSantis said.
Fred Lippman, chancellor of the Nova Southeastern University Health Professions Division, and a pharmacist and pharmacy owner, said the governor’s proposal is “a very interesting concept” that has the “potential to reduce the cost of vitally needed medications.”
Many people don’t realize that the same drugs are more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries, Lippman said.
“We are subsidizing the cost of FDA-approved drugs in countries throughout the world at much lower prices than we’re paying in our own pharmacies or in our own prescription services,” he said.
“Let’s be candid: These products are made usually in the same facilities. Most of our products come to us from various countries as well as our own, and then the product is packaged and labeled and sold,” Lippman said.
Lippman, a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1978 to 1998, thinks the idea would be politically well received by lawmakers, but with a big caveat. “I believe it would be relatively favorably looked at by the House and the Senate, but I’m sure the drug industry will look on it with great disfavor.”
Drug manufacturers and their squadron of lobbyists surely would put up a fight, said Dave Lacknauth, who oversees pharmacy services for Broward Health, the five-hospital system, which serves the northern two-thirds of Broward County.
“Attacking drug costs is critical and important,” he said. “But the biggest pushback may be the drug manufacturers because it takes away from their profits. They have a lot of lobbyists and folks that will stand up for rules and regulations to support their business.”
A drug-importation program should require prescriptions from licensed Florida physicians that get filled at Canadian pharmacies registered with the Board of Pharmacy in Florida.
Lippman said some services, which he described as “not very large,” have offered drugs imported from Canada to South Florida and promise lower prices.
Ideally, Lippman said, there would be a better way to get lower drug prices without having to import medication from Canada.
“I would much prefer for our free enterprise system here in the United States to be able to negotiate drug prices with the manufacturers that own the products which are being dispensed in Canada rather than having to impugn the integrity of our distribution system by having to say I have to buy it from another country,” he said. “It’s really always baffled me as to why we have our military negotiate with the drug manufacturers for lower prices than are available to the general public.”
DeSantis said the changes he is proposing would also help reduce the amount of money the state spends on drugs for prisoners. A federal judge in November ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to begin treating all prison inmates who test positive for hepatitis C virus with next-generation medications.
It’s estimated that between 20 to 40 percent of the 100,000 people in Florida state prisons have the hepatitis C virus. Treatment can cost $20,000.
The governor was accompanied in The Villages by House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew.
Oliva has made lowering health-care costs a top priority for the next two years. He has taken aim at Florida hospitals for being the primary drivers of increased costs and has pushed to eliminate regulations that he says give hospitals an unfair advantage over other health-care facilities, such as ambulatory surgical centers.
“There are tremendous efforts on behalf of interest groups to keep things as they are,” Oliva said. “And it takes the courage of the people that you all send up to Tallahassee to make a difference. So I can finally say, ‘We are all here and we’re going to make a difference.’ ”
Staff writers Anthony Man and Tonya Alanez contributed to this report, which was supplemented by information from the Associated Press.