Big Pharma

Whaaat? Big Pharma asks DeSantis to veto Canadian drug importation plan

Move over Don Quixote. Here comes PhRMA President and  Chief Executive Officer Stephen J. Ubl tilting at windmills.

Ubl, head of the officially known as the Pharmaceutical  Manufacturing and Research Association, sent a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday, politely congratulating the Republican governor on hitting the milestone of his first 100 days in office.

“I look forward to working alongside you to ensure Floridians have access to affordable medicines and hope you will not hesitate to call upon me if I can ever be of assistance,” Ubl wrote.

Then Ubl asks DeSantis for what seems impossible — a veto of HB 19, the  Canadian drug importation program. Getting Canadian drugs into Florida is DeSantis’ top health care priority, and is also a priority for House Speaker Jose Oliva.

“When this bill is officially sent to your desk, I encourage you to consider vetoing it.,” Ubl wrote. “While your goal of lowering the costs of prescription medicines for Floridians is one I share, the biopharmaceutical industry has serious concerns with any proposal that could put patient safety at risk.”

Ubl outlines several alternatives to the Canadian drug importation program.

“First, we believe that patients should benefit from the more than $166 billion in rebates and discounts provided to insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, the government and other entities in the supply chain in 2018,” he wrote. “On average, 40 percent of the list price of medicines are given as rebates, but too often, patients never reap the benefits of these discounts. Ensuring they do is one step you can take to provide relief to the Floridians struggling to afford their medicines.”

The prescription drug importation program was a hotly contested issue during the 2019 session. DeSantis on Saturday joked that the proposal (HB 19) was a “stimulus” for Tallahassee lobbyists who were hired to kill the proposal.

DeSantis was in Washington on Monday discussing the plan, which requires federal approval, with President Donald Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar on the issue.

DeSantis hasn’t received the bill yet; once he does, the governor will have 15 days to sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

“Usually people never want to touch prescription drugs because you see all the stuff coming down,” DeSantis told reporters Saturday, referring to an ad blitz blasting the drug importation plan. “But we said, let’s just do the right thing. Let’s hang in there, and that will be better for Florida. I think there was just a lot of opportunities to lead, and I took them, but then these guys in the Legislature took them as well, so that’s a good thing.”

By The News Service of Florida’s health care maven, Christine Sexton.