Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Published April 26, 2019
Some said Medicare would destroy
health care in America. But it didn’t.
Some said cigarettes don’t kill. But they do.
Now some say medicines from Canada aren’t safe. But they are.
Propagandists can be ingenious when there are obscene profits to protect.
A powerful lobbying effort opposes Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to import
medicines from Canada to save money for the state and the public.
Nearly 100 lobbyists are at work on the Legislature and a media campaign is
Surprisingly, a significant number of Democrats have been voting against the
bill — the only legislative opponents so far.
The fear-and-smear campaign is coming from an organization called the
Partnership for Safe Medicines. Once again, a high-sounding name conceals a
low purpose: keeping the market safe for exorbitant drug prices.
The partnership’s 69 member groups are mostly pharmaceutical trade
associations, including PhRMA, the industry’s big gun. The National
Association of Manufacturers, that well-known protector of corporate
profits, is also a member. The Wall Street Journal editorial board is also
an ally, as is Scott Gottlieb, who spent his short tenure as FDA
commissioner shilling for the drug and health care industry. A few
legitimate public interest groups also have bought into Pharma’s campaign.
The group is fronting for the crowd that charges $1,700 for a diabetes drug
that sells for $175 in the United Kingdom, as just one example.
Countries like Great Britain and Canada regulate the price of drugs. Ours
“The United States overall spends 30 to 190 percent more on prescription
drugs than other developed countries and pays up to 174 percent more for the
same prescription drug,” according to a legislative staff report.
Because of high prescription drug costs, some people are skipping doses,
splitting pills or going without — with deadly results. Others are importing
their drugs from Canada, despite a prohibition the FDA doesn’t enforce.
In fact, an estimated 19 million Americans already get their medicines by
mail from Canada or Mexico. And here’s a statistic you won’t see in today’s
scare campaign: Some 40 percent of drugs sold in the U.S. are manufactured
elsewhere, mostly in India or China.
We applaud Gov. DeSantis’s push to let state agencies and private pharmacies
import less expensive drugs from reputable and regulated suppliers in Canada
and elsewhere. For as Medicare has shown, when government says yes, private
House Bill 19, by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, approaches the goal in two
ways. It would allow Florida to import pharmaceuticals from Canada for state
programs, such as Medicaid, health departments and the prison system.
Pharmacists also could import medicines for private patients from Canada and
certain other countries.
Only drugs approved by the FDA and sourced by licensed suppliers would be
eligible. The providers also would have to comply with the product-tracking
law that Congress enacted in 2013 to keep counterfeit and hijacked drugs out
of the supply chain.
There is no evidence the change would flood Florida with unsafe drugs.
Counterfeiting is a real issue, yes, but the only reported examples involve
drugs sold in the United States. No one has yet produced ONE example of
someone — anywhere in the U.S. — who was harmed by drugs imported from
licensed and regulated sources in Canada.
Yet when the House passed HB 19 last week, 22 Democrats, almost half their
caucus, cast the only votes against it. Democrats were also the only
dissenters when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it 14-4 on
In both cases, the respective minority leaders — Kionne McGhee of Miami in
the House and Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville in the Senate — were on the
wrong side of this highly significant public health issue.
Could it be that Democrats don’t want to give the Republican governor a win
— even if it’s a win for the people?
McGhee said in a statement that the bill is merely a “Band Aid,” not the
“comprehensive solution” Floridians needs. Following up, a spokesperson told
the Sun Sentinel editorial board that the bill doesn’t guarantee cost
savings will be passed along to consumers. But Big Pharma obviously fears
they will be.
When you can’t defeat something on the merits, a classic legislative ploy is
to say it’s not good enough.
In the real world, a “comprehensive solution” to the staggering cost of
health care is not within the Florida Legislature’s reach. But an
incremental reform, such as HB 19, certainly is. And its enactment would be
a significant step forward, which is why Big Pharma dreads it so.
“If you go around the country, this deal has a lot of Democratic support,”
says Leek, who finds it strange — as do we — that in Florida, some of the
Democrats are “a mouthpiece for Pharma.”
Reached late Friday, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Pompano Beach, said he agrees
“the governor’s position is the position of the people, but the
implementation of that position is certainly our responsibility.”
Thurston raises concerns about imported drugs being made available only to
“vulnerable communities” in government programs, about the federal
government having not approved importation, about imports from countries
besides Canada, about Canada’s ability to handle the volume, about cost
projections and about the House bill being advanced without appropriate
“I think the bottom line is, it was half-baked,” he said. “We want more
answers. We’re not saying it’s a bad idea.”
Thurston said a lot can happen in the legislature’s final two weeks. He
expects the bill's sponsors will work to address the Democrats’ concerns. He
realizes this is a populist issue.
“The Thurston family would love to have some help with prescription costs,
as well as my constituents in District 33,” he said. “We’re not fighting for
Big Pharma, that’s for sure.”
If passed, the proposal would need approval from the federal government. The
Department of Health and Human Services has had the necessary authority
since 2003, but has dragged its feet. HHS Secretary Alex Azar has been
But it’s President Donald Trump who would be ultimately responsible.
DeSantis, a Trump protégé, has claimed the president’s support for the idea.
Florida can and should send a message to Big Pharma and put President Trump
to the test by passing the Canadian import plan. The governor spoke out in
support again and is scheduled to speak Tuesday at a Tallahassee forum
arranged by the AARP.
The purpose is to let older adults speak out about what Big Pharma is doing
to them. That’s a message most of Florida’s legislators seem to be hearing.
All of them need to.