The Trump administration said Wednesday it will set up a system to allow Americans to legally import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, weakening a long-standing ban that had stood as a top priority for the politically powerful pharmaceutical industry. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the announcement Wednesday morning, the AP reports. Previous administrations had sided with the industry on importation, echoing its concerns that it could expose patients to risks from counterfeit or substandard medications. Azar, a former drug industry executive, said US patients will be able to import medications safely and effectively, with oversight from the Food and Drug Administration. The administration's proposal would allow states, wholesalers, and pharmacists to get FDA approval to import certain medications that are also available here.
It's unclear how soon consumers will see results. Most patients take affordable generic drugs to manage conditions such as high blood pressure or elevated blood sugars. But polls show concern about the prices of breakthrough medications for intractable illnesses like cancer or hepatitis C infection, whose costs can run to $100,000 or more. And long-available drugs like insulin have also seen price increases that have forced some people with diabetes to ration their own doses. "For too long American patients have been paying exorbitantly high prices for prescription drugs that are made available to other countries at lower prices," Azar said in a statement that credited President Trump for pushing the idea. The administration's move comes as the industry is facing a crescendo of consumer complaints over prices, as well as legislation from both parties in Congress to rein in costs. (Click for more on what Trump and lawmakers are pursuing.)