Jul 19, 2019

Importing prescription drugs from Canada is tougher than it sounds

Photo: Brad Wilson/Getty Images

American politicians love to say they'll let Americans import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. But there's a problem: Canada.

What they're saying: Canadian officials' internal briefings say that the country "does not support actions that could adversely affect the supply of prescription drugs in Canada and potentially raise costs of prescription drugs for Canadians," according to documents obtained by Reuters.

Importation into the U.S. would fit that bill. If we really did begin importing large quantities of drugs from Canada, its domestic supplies could shrink.

  • Pharmaceutical companies would have every incentive to either limit Canada's supplies, to ensure that not many pills make it back across the border, or to try to raise their prices in Canada.

There are other problems, too, despite importation's political popularity here.

  • The FDA has consistently resisted large-scale importation efforts, saying it can't adequately guarantee those products are safe.
  • Drugmakers' purchasing contracts in Canada also often prohibit the practice, per Reuters. (Canada's federal health care does not cover prescription drugs — they're covered through a mix of provincial programs and private insurance.)

My thought bubble: If the U.S. wants to set some standards about how much it will pay for drugs, we always have the option of setting our own rules rather than importing Canada's.

Go deeper: The U.S. won't import prescription drugs from Canada any time soon

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HHS announces pathways for prescription drug importation

HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it is taking steps to open the door for prescription drugs to be imported into the U.S. from other countries.

The big picture: Drug importation has long been a policy idea championed mostly by Democrats, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that it'll have much of an impact on drug prices — beginning with other countries' lack of enthusiasm for sending us their drugs.

Go deeper: Importing prescription drugs from Canada is tougher than it sounds

Keep ReadingArrowJul 31, 2019

Importation isn't a silver bullet to lower drug prices

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Trump administration is moving forward on the traditionally Democratic policy of importing prescription drugs from abroad, but the impact — if the proposals are actually finalized — could be pretty muted.

The big picture: While importation could help some patients afford their drugs, the policy overall is an attempt to take advantage of other countries' lower drug prices while avoiding taking direct action to limit prices in the U.S.

Go deeperArrowAug 1, 2019

A small group of patients account for a whole lot of spending

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A very small group of patients with major illnesses is responsible for an outsized share of health care spending, and new data show that prescription drugs are a big part of the reason their bills are so high.

The big picture: Among people who get their coverage from a large employer, just 1.3% of employees were responsible for almost 20% of overall health spending, averaging a whopping $88,000 per year.

Go deeperArrowJul 29, 2019