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The Trump Administration Takes Steps Toward Importing Drugs From Canada

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The way that American law is written, drugs like insulin can’t be imported as easily as some other kinds of drugs.

The Trump administration is opening the door to letting states, pharmacies, and drug companies import medicines that are Food and Drug Administration-approved, but manufactured for Canada and other foreign countries. It’s yet another effort by the administration to lower drug prices for Americans: Drugs sold in countries where the government negotiates with pharmaceutical companies, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, tend to be far cheaper than in the United States, where the government is barred from such bargaining, as a Reuters analysis found in 2015.

“This is the next important step in the administration’s work to end foreign freeloading and put American patients first,” Alex Azar, head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in a statement announcing the plan.

Here are five important facts to know about the plan.

Insulin Isn’t Covered Under Parts of the Plan

Insulin has become a poster child for America’s high drug prices, because its price tag has gone up so steeply in recent years, and millions of Americans with diabetes depend on it. Yet it wouldn’t be eligible under one of the two pathways for drug importation that the administration is proposing. Under Pathway 1, large-scale buyers of drugs—such as states, wholesalers, and pharmacies—can submit proposals to the HHS, explaining how they would safely and cheaply import medicines approved by Canada’s drug regulator, Health Canada. They couldn’t ask to import insulin in this way, however, because insulin is a biologic drug, meaning it’s made from a complex biological product, instead of a simpler, stabler chemical. The way that American law is written, biologic drugs can’t be imported under something like Pathway 1, an HHS spokesperson explains in an email.

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