Ransacking Foreign Medicine Cabinets Is a Bad Prescription for U.S. Healthcare

Trump Administration’s “Safe Importation Action Plan” Is Downright Dangerous

On July 31, the Trump Administration announced the “Safe Importation Action Plan” that would allow for the importation of prescription drugs from foreign markets: 1) States, wholesalers, or pharmacists could develop pilot projects to facilitate the importation of certain drugs from Canada; 2) manufacturers could reroute certain versions of FDA-approved drugs originally sold in foreign markets back into the U.S. at lower prices. This is bad plan.

Ransacking Canadian medicine cabinets and importing market-distorting, socialist price controls are not the answers to lowering prescription drug prices for Americans.

First, there is no guarantee that the prices of prescription drugs would even go down in United States or that any savings would be passed along to patients. President Trump’s own Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, himself said just last year, “Importing drugs from other countries, such as Canada… is a gimmick,” and he cited the minuscule savings calculated by the Congressional Budget Office. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development data show that Americans actually spend less on prescription drugs than Canadians do (and also less than people in Norway and Switzerland do).

Second, there is no guarantee that imported drugs would be safe. Indeed, President Trump himself said last year, “We don’t like getting [drugs] from other countries [because] we don’t know… how they’re being made.” The “Safe Importation Action Plan” undoubtedly would make American patients less safe. Importing drugs from other countries would expose Americans to the very real possibilities of being poisoned with the opioids that have wreaked havoc across our nation and with substandard, falsified, and counterfeit drugs. Indeed, experts estimate that one in ten medicines worldwide is counterfeit. 

Third, the Canadians are not on board with the Trump Administration’s plan. “Canada does not support actions that could adversely affect the supply of prescription drugs in Canada and potentially raise costs of prescription drugs for Canadians,” reads an April briefing for Canadian officials. Moreover, the organization Innovative Medicines Canada says, “Canada cannot supply medicines and vaccines to a market ten times larger than its own population without jeopardizing Canadian supplies and causing shortages.”

Fourth, the Trump Administration’s plan amounts to importing European-style price controls, which have led to deadly shortages and lapses in patient care. Nearly 90 percent of drugs launched worldwide in the last eight years are available in the United States. In contrast, only 66 percent are available in the United Kingdom, and fewer than half are available in Canada.

Fifth, U.S. medical innovation relies on market pricing and intellectual property protection. The Trump administration’s plan represents the opposite of free trade. It would introduce socialist price controls and trample on intellectual property rights. Indeed, the administration’s scheme ultimately would quash innovation and put in danger the very patients it seeks to help.

In short, foreign medicine cabinets aren’t all that full, or cheap, or safe.

These are just some of the reasons the “Safe Importation Action Plan” must be opposed. Americans deserve a plan to reduce prescription drug prices that preserves consumer access, market pricing, and patient safety.

Ainsley Shea