At long last, U.S. consumers will soon be legally permitted to buy prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies, if the Trump administration and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers have their way. Late last month, according to a recent Associated Press report, government officials announced that they plan to “create a way for Americans to legally and safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada for the first time.”
Cheaper Drugs from Canada are Part of a 2016 Campaign Promise
This major policy change comes in the midst of “a public outcry over high prices for life-sustaining medications,” the AP reports, and it marks a 180-degree shift away from a closed-door policy that has been in place for decades. The Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1987 made it illegal for anyone other than the original manufacturer to bring prescription drugs into the country, but the law has been loosely enforced for individual consumers. During the 2016 election campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to formally loosen the ban, finally allowing U.S. prescription consumers to take advantage of drug prices in Canada which are often a fraction of the prices American drug-takers pay.
According to the Associated Press, this change may show that the power of the drug lobby in Washington DC is finally weakening. The import ban “has stood as a symbol of the political clout of the pharmaceutical industry,” says the AP. But today, Big Pharma “is facing a crescendo of consumer complaints over prices, as well as legislation from both parties in Congress to rein in costs.” At long last, the report suggests, it may be time for both political parties to “deliver on years of harsh rhetoric about pharmaceutical industry prices.” Still, it could be a while before any shift in policy will formally take hold. “The plan has to go through time-consuming regulatory approval and later could face court challenges from drugmakers,” says the AP article. What’s more, no one really knows how Canada will feel about “becoming the drugstore for its much bigger neighbor.”
Bringing in Drugs from Canada (or Anywhere Else) is Illegal – with Exceptions
It’s hard to find statistics on just how many Americans are looking northward for cheaper drug prices, but the practice has its plusses and minuses. This recent article from the website Verywell Health gives a good explanation. “Under federal law, it is not legal to import prescription drugs into the United States unless you are the manufacturer,” says the site. It’s also against the law to buy American-made drugs overseas and bring them into the U.S. But while these laws were originally written to protect consumers against fraudulently-labelled or otherwise substandard prescriptions, they are not always strictly enforced. Under FDA guidelines, consumers can import a 90-day supply of some prescription drugs and medical devices provided these conditions are met:
- The drug “is to be used to treat a serious condition and no effective treatment is available in the United States.”
- The drug is for personal use and not for re-sale.
- There’s no “unreasonable risk” involved.
- You’re bringing in no more than a three-month supply.
Most Americans will also be required to provide the name and address of their U.S.-licensed physician, or to be able to prove that the drug is for continued treatment begun in a foreign country.
Drugs from Canada are a Target of Pharmaceutical and Pharmacy Trade Groups
The American pharmaceutical industry remains fiercely opposed to any loosening of the prohibition against drugs ordered from Canada – or from any other non-traditional source, for that matter. So apparently does the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. In 2017 the NABP sent a strongly-worded letter to members of Congress expressing concern over any proposed legislation to relax the rules. “There are roughly 35,000 active online pharmacies,” said the group, but 96 percent of them are “operating illegally, out of compliance with state and federal laws” or proper pharmacy standards. “In many instances, these sites are foreign drug sellers masquerading as Canadian online pharmacies but actually dispensing medications that are approved by neither FDA nor Health Canada.” This argument echoes drug industry claims that the quality of foreign drugs can’t be guaranteed and consumers can’t be assured that they’re not taking a counterfeit prescription.
However, in announcing the new move toward more relaxed rules, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar seemed to minimize those concerns. “The landscape and the opportunities for safe linkage between drug supply chains has changed,” Azar said, according to the AP report. “That is part of why, for the first time in HHS’s history, we are open to importation. We want to see proposals from states, distributors, and pharmacies that can help accomplish our shared goal of safe prescription drugs at lower prices.” Acting Commissioner of the FDA Ned Sharpless agreed. “The FDA has the resources to do this,” he told the AP. “The agency is interested in considering any reasonable proposal that maintains the bedrock of safety and efficacy for the American consumer.”
High Drug Costs Can Derail a Poorly Designed Retirement Plan
There’s going to be a lot more to this story and we’ll report on future developments here on the AgingOptions blog. Meanwhile, this question of prescription drug costs brings up two very important elements of proper retirement planning: a good medical plan that meets your healthcare needs, and a good financial plan to help ensure you don’t end up broke in retirement. Is that all you need for retirement security? Definitely not, says Rajiv Nagaich. “Without proper legal protection and a well-conceived housing strategy,” he says, “you could be setting yourself up for a major failure as you grow older. And don’t forget your family! After all,” Rajiv adds, “aging is a family affair. You want to know that those you love will be there to support you, not just today, but two or even three decades from now.”
Fortunately, there’s a retirement strategy that blends all these critical elements – medical, financial, legal, housing and family – into one seamless plan, called a LifePlan. A LifePlan from AgingOptions is your key to retirement security, helping you protect your assets as you age, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the trap of being forced to move into institutional care against your will. We cordially invite you to join Rajiv for a free LifePlanning Seminar where he’ll explain what you need to know to create this kind of robust retirement plan for yourself and your family. You’ll find a current calendar of upcoming seminars here on our Live Events page, where you can also register online. Need help? Call us during the week. We’ll look forward to seeing you soon – and meanwhile, age on!
(originally reported at www.apnews.com)