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Opinion: Trump offers false hope with Canadian drug plan


Kent Kaiser  |  The Detroit News

On September 24, the Trump administration finalized its plan to allow for the importation of prescription drugs from foreign markets. Under the plan, states could develop proposals for federal government approval to facilitate the importation of certain drugs from Canada.

The Trump administration plan is politically motivated and provides a false hope to voters that the plan would lead to lower drug costs and that the drugs would be safe.

Taking from Canadian medicine cabinets and importing market-distorting, socialist price controls are not the answers to lowering prescription drug prices for Americans.

First, there is no guarantee that the prices of prescription drugs will even go down in United States or that any savings would be passed along to patients. President Donald Trump’s own Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, himself said just two years ago, “Importing drugs from other countries, such as Canada… is a gimmick,” referring to the minuscule savings calculated by the Congressional Budget Office. Four Food and Drug Administration commissioners from the Bush and Obama administrations wrote to Congress, saying importation's “small savings might not be passed on to patients.”

Second, there is no guarantee that imported drugs would be safe. Indeed, Trump himself said in 2018, “We don’t like getting [drugs] from other countries [because] we don’t know… how they’re being made.” The administration’s plan undoubtedly will make American patients less safe.

Importing drugs from other countries will expose Americans to the very real possibilities of being poisoned with the opioids that have wreaked havoc across our nation and with substandard, falsified, and counterfeit drugs. Indeed, experts estimate that one in 10 medicines in developing countries is counterfeit, and the FDA once determined that 85% of supposedly Canadian pharmacy drugs come from 27 other countries.

Third, the Canadians are not on board with the Trump administration’s plan. “Canada does not support actions that could adversely affect the supply of prescription drugs in Canada and potentially raise costs of prescription drugs for Canadians,” reads an April 2019 briefing for Canadian officials. Moreover, the organization Innovative Medicines Canada says, “Canada cannot supply medicines and vaccines to a market ten times larger than its own population without jeopardizing Canadian supplies and causing shortages.”

Fourth, the Trump administration’s plan amounts to importing European-style price controls, which have led to deadly shortages and lapses in patient care. Nearly 90% of drugs launched worldwide in the last eight years are available in the United States. In contrast, fewer than half are available in Canada.

Fifth, U.S. medical innovation relies on market pricing and intellectual property protection. The Trump administration’s plan represents the opposite of free trade. It will introduce socialist price controls and trample on intellectual property rights. Indeed, the administration’s scheme ultimately will quash innovation and put in danger the very patients it seeks to help.

In short, Canadian medicine cabinets aren’t all that full, or cheap, or safe.

These are just some of the reasons the Trump administration plan is a disappointment. Instead of disrupting the successful, market-based structure that we currently enjoy with Medicare, the Trump administration should dispense with the gimmicks and come up with proposals that truly help Americans better afford their medicines while also preserving consumer access, market pricing, and patient safety.

Kent Kaiser, Ph.D., is executive director of the Trade Alliance to Promote Prosperity. More information is available at promote-trade.org.