The Biden administration argues because the drug importation rule and process has never been officially implemented, the drug industry is acting too soon with its legal challenge. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images
TALLAHASSEE — President Joe Biden’s administration Friday night filed a motion in federal court seeking to dismiss a lawsuit that aims to prevent prescription drug imports from Canada — a plan Florida is lobbying to utilize.
The Biden administration’s motion essentially sides with Florida and New Mexico, the only other state that has formally started the process of applying for Canadian imports. The motion asks a federal court in Washington to toss a lawsuit from the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, which represents brand-named drug producers, against the Department of Health and Human Services.
The administration argues because the drug importation rule and process has never been officially implemented, the drug industry is acting too soon with its legal challenge.
“Any future implementation, if it were to occur, may not occur as Plaintiffs speculate. Meanwhile, nothing is required of Plaintiffs’ members. The complaint thus presents ‘abstract hypotheticals or requests for advisory opinions,'” the motion states.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that created a framework allowing Florida to import prescription drugs from Canada — a move that needs federal approval. The initial phases began under former President Donald Trump’s administration, but it now must be approved by Biden’s administration, which DeSantis is increasingly attacking as he positions himself to likely run for president in 2024.
Supporters of the Canadian import plan say it would disrupt drug markets and lower prices. But the plan is heavily opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, which sued federal health agencies, arguing that the plan presents “significant safety risks” and “would yield little to no savings for American consumers.”
The drug lobby in January also sought to block Florida’s plan in particular, claiming it would “jeopardize patients’ safety.”
The idea to import drugs from Canada was touted for years by Trump as a way to get cheaper medicines. Policy experts — including Trump’s secretary for Health and Human Services — warned it would produce little savings for consumers and open safety questions about imported products. Several progressive Democrats including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have also backed drug importation over the years, but bills have not gained momentum and states’ previous efforts have stalled without federal support.
Trump in July 2019 unveiled a proposal that would leave it to states to draw up plans for drug importation that would require buy-in from pharmaceutical companies and the Canadian government, both of which oppose such measures. DeSantis, a Trump ally, was the first state governor to submit a plan to the federal government, claiming that the proposal could save more than $150 million a year.
But critics argue that oversight and safety measures to track imported medicines will eat into savings and could leave consumers with virtually the same costs. States would also need to set up regulatory frameworks that could take years to implement.
“If you put Canadian drugs on a dogsled and pointed it in the direction of Florida, the dogs would arrive long before any drugs through this regulatory proposal,” Chris Meekins, a former Trump administration HHS official now at Raymond James, previously wrote in a note to investors.
During the 2019 Florida legislative session, when the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature was considering a Canadian drug imports bill, the pharmaceutical industry heavily lobbied against the plan and ran TV ads in opposition in Florida media markets. The fight over Canadian imports was a dominant issue during that year’s legislative session.
On Friday, DeSantis held a press conference pressing the Biden administration to approve Florida’s plan to import Canadian drugs.
“I’m watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my daughter, and I see, oh, Gov. DeSantis and his minions want to bring in these dangerous drugs from Djibouti or where ever. It was nonsense,” DeSantis said.
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