WASHINGTON – To ensure that attention is drawn to a battlefield state in 2020, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that his government could approve a Florida plan to introduce cheaper prescription drugs from abroad to local residents.
This is the latest flashpoint in a confrontation between the Trump Administration and the pharmaceutical industry, which has successfully fended off import proposals for years. Drugs in other economically advanced countries are often much cheaper because governments set prices.
At a White House event promising to end the "surprising medical bill" for patients with health insurance coverage, Trump turned to the cost of prescription drugs.
Read: Trump calls for an end to the medical bills' surprise – why is that more difficult than it sounds?
"We can allow states to buy drugs in other countries if we can buy them for a lower price and a much lower price, and that will be very unique," he said. "But we will allow them to go to other countries because the drug companies treated us very, very unfairly and the rules and restrictions in our country were absolutely cruel."
He added that states with "specific permits" can import prescription drugs from abroad "if they can buy them for 40%, 50% and 60% less".
Trump's comments were an obvious indication of an import plan recently passed by the Florida legislature, presumably signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, who has made him one of his priorities.
DeSantis told reporters in Florida on Thursday that he had talked with Trump and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar about the plan this week, and the president said to Azar, "They are working with this governor to achieve this."
The Florida program would have to be approved by the Azar Department before it can be implemented.
As part of the plan, Floridians could potentially get cheaper Canadian prescription drugs. Advocates say imported drugs must meet the standards of the US Food and Drug Administration, and 80 percent of the drug ingredients used in the United States are now manufactured abroad.
The law survived the fierce resistance of large pharmaceutical companies and medical organizations claiming that importing medicines would lead to counterfeit or ineffective substances and would be difficult to regulate for the US or Florida.
Some experts were skeptical about imports from Canada, partly because of concerns about Canadian drug manufacturers being able to supply the much larger US market. However, consumer groups have strongly supported the idea, arguing that it will push manufacturers to cut their prices here, where the government has traditionally set no such limits.
AARP strongly supported the Florida Plan, saying it was possible to safely import cheaper, equally effective medicines, and this would boost global price competition. CEO Jo Ann Jenkins praised Trump for supporting the legislation in Florida, calling it a "reasonable drug import plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs."
The Pharmaceutical Industry Lobby, Pharma Research and Manufacturers of America, said the plan would endanger Floridier, potentially allowing fake or counterfeit medicines. "These suggestions can not guarantee that patients will not be endangered, nor is there any evidence that they will save patients money," the group said in a statement.