Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

Washington — On Wednesday, the Trump administration  announced a plan to allow Americans legal access to lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly spoken out against the soaring cost of prescription drugs and is backing a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would cap prices.

Americans pay on average $1,200 on prescription drugs per year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than citizens in any other country.

“Americans deserve protection from high drug costs, and they deserve a healthcare system that provides affordable, patient-centric care,” said Alex Azar, health and human services (HHS) secretary.

The plan proposed by the HHS and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) outlines two pathways.

The first involves using the agencies’ current authority to propose a rule that would authorise pilot projects developed by states, wholesalers and pharmacists to import certain drugs from Canada, though these would be limited to a narrow class of drugs.

Under the second pathway, the FDA would work with manufacturers seeking to import into the US versions of those drugs they sell in foreign countries, “potentially allowing them to offer a lower price than their current distribution contracts require”.

These could include medications such as insulin used to treat diabetes, as well as those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disorders, and cancer, a statement said.

The agencies did not provide a time frame for the implementation of the plan, which will likely be met with legal challenges from the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceutical companies argue that high prices are the cost of innovation, but a 2016 Harvard Medical School study blamed factors such as the US patent system, which grants makers “government-protected monopolies” through market exclusivity that lasts decades.

It also noted that unlike nearly every other advanced nation, the US healthcare system allows manufacturers to set their own prices rather than having to negotiate with a national health insurance systems.

AFP