In Minnesota, praise and concern for Trump's new drug plan
ST. PAUL — The Trump administration’s announcement that Americans will be able to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada was met in Minnesota with praise, questions and concern.
State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Senate health and human services committee, called so-called “reimportation” from Canada a key tool for lowering prescription drug prices.
“Reimportation was and is my focus since session ended,” Benson said. “This is a major opportunity for us to fundamentally improve the lives of every Minnesotan whose life depends on prescription drugs.”
Benson added that removing federal red tape would “lead to innovation” and urged Gov. Tim Walz to back the GOP-led Senate’s efforts to make drug reimportation a reality.
“If we can work together, Minnesotans won’t need to caravan to Canada for their drugs. They will be able to visit their local pharmacy and get lower prices,” Benson said.
Her counterpart in the House, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, questioned why President Donald Trump and Congress wouldn’t implement prescription drug price controls and bulk purchasing similar to policies that help Canadians keep down the cost of medication.
“I don’t think this solves the problem long-term,” Liebling said, noting that she was supportive of importing drugs from Canada as a temporary solution. “It’s too bad our government can’t get its act together. … It just shows you the power of the drug companies.”
Liebling said Democrats have their own ideas for lowering drug prices, such as combining the different state prescription drug plans to bolster negotiating power. Liebling says that could have a lasting impact on drug prices without having to rely on our neighbor to the north.
“It is a sad thing we are making our people do that,” Liebling said of buying medicine from Canada. “I’m glad they can, but it is a sad thing we make them.”
Drug makers and distributors were not happy with the announcement the administration was developing a way to let states, pharmacies and wholesalers import drugs from Canada. They called reimportation dangerous, warning that current safeguards would no longer be effective.
“Rather than surrender the safety of Americans by importing failed polices from single-payer countries, we should work on solutions here at home that would lower patient out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy counter,” Stephen Ubl, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement.
Quinn Nystrom, a diabetic who advocates for affordable insulin, said the Trump administration’s move was good, in theory, but won’t have an impact for years. It could also be rejected in court.
“We need something done yesterday,” said Nystrom, of Baxter, who recently led a group of diabetics to Canada to buy insulin. “People are dying. We don’t have time to waste.”
Nystrom was frustrated that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was the one making the announcement Wednesday, July 31. Before Azar’s appointment to a federal post, he led Eli Lilly, one of the largest insulin manufacturers.
“If anyone can figure out insulin pricing, its Alex Azar,” Nystrom said, noting the price of the life-saving drug has jumped roughly 300 percent in the past decade. “He knew how to raise the price; he should know how to lower it.”
Candidate Trump promised to lower drug prices, Nystrom noted, and the administration should move in a more decisive way — such as an executive action, she said.
“My hope still is they will do the right thing and get the job done,” she said. “That they will stand up to patients over profits.”