Health Care

Trump asks Health secretary in Oval Office to help Florida import Canadian drugs

President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with then-candidate Ron DeSantis during a rally in Tampa, July 31, 2018.
President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with then-candidate Ron DeSantis during a rally in Tampa, July 31, 2018. AP

President Donald Trump asked his health secretary Monday evening during a meeting in the Oval Office to help Florida import low-cost pharmaceuticals, lending crucial support to one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top initiatives.

Florida’s Legislature, with DeSantis’ encouragement, passed a bill last month to create a prescription drug importation program that would seek to bring in low-cost pharmaceuticals from Canada for state programs, such as Medicaid.

The concept needs federal approval in order to be put in place.

Trump signaled his early support of the plan Monday evening during a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Panhandle Rep. Matt Gaetz and DeSantis, according to a White House pool report issued after 9 p.m. Trump, according to the pool report, “asked Secretary Azar and Governor DeSantis to work together to explore additional [healthcare] options, including drug importation opportunities, to reduce drug prices in a safe way for Floridians.”

Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visits Jackson Hospital to talk about the opioid epidemic on June 19, 2018.

Federal approval for the import program — required under a 2003 law — would be unprecedented, and would take months or perhaps years. Vermont is the only other state to pass a law to create a drug import program, and the federal government has not yet granted approval.

Florida’s newly passed legislation, HB 19, banks on price-regulated Canadian drugs pushing competitively priced pharmaceuticals into the marketplace. It calls for Florida’s health department to hire a program manager and establish a list no later than December for low-cost, wholesale imported Canadian pharmaceuticals meeting federal food and drug safety standards. The law requires that Florida’s health agencies seek federal approval by July of next year.

DeSantis believes the program — which aligns with Trump’s own priorities — would benefit the state government given the number of state prisoners receiving public healthcare, the public cost for state workers’ medicine and the amount of money that Florida spends on Medicaid. House Speaker José Oliva, for whom healthcare competition was also a top priority this year, tweeted thanks to Trump Monday night.

“The Florida House stands ready to bring affordable, SAFE, and effective drugs to the market,” Oliva said.

Also Monday, DeSantis and Trump spoke about efforts to bring more money to the hurricane-ravaged Florida Panhandle. Trump will hold a campaign rally Wednesday in Panama City.

Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, Navicent Health, nurse practitioner Michelle Rowell recently discovered a new tool from Cerner that helps find the lowest cost prescription for her patients.