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Borrello: Importing Prescriptions Won’t Cure Shortages

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, makes a point about a prescription drug import bill during a June debate on the state Senate floor.

Legislation to create a wholesale prescription drug import program in New York will wait until next year’s state legislative session.

State Sen. James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, introduced S.9838, which passed the state Senate 59-2 as the state legislative session closed this year, but the bill did not reach the Assembly floor for a vote. The Senate bill would direct the state health commissioner, in consultation with the state education commissioner, to design a wholesale prescription drug importation program for the wholesale importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

“My office and I pushed our priorities until the very last moments of session last week and delivered on our commitment to always put Orange County first,” Skoufis told the Mid Hudson News. “There’s additional work that’s required, however, and I look forward to the possibility of returning to Albany this summer for a special session to get our prescription savings bill – and other important legislation – across the finish line.”

The prescription drugs imported under the program would be restricted to those that meet certain standards, including drugs that are expected to generate substantial savings for NewYork consumers. The health commissioner would be in charge of seeking all necessary federal certifications and/or approvals for the program. The Department of Health would be authorized to impose annual fees on approved wholesalers to support the operation of the program. Additionally, the Department of Health would create regulations in consultation with the state Education Department and report annually to the legislature.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, was one of two votes against the bill in the state Senate because he isn’t sure it will actually do anything to decrease prescription drug costs. While Florida has received federal approval to import Canadian prescription medicines, the program only helps those on Medicaid and doesn’t apply to all medicine.

“The biggest opponent to us importing products from Canada is Canada itself,” Borrello said. “In fact the Canadian government has stated that their market is far too small to have a real impact on prescription drug prices and that the minister of Health stated there is no way we will allow any jurisdiction, be it the state or the federal government, to endanger the Canadian drug supply. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that another country cannot be given the ability to pillage our health care system for its own benefit. Now I realize that Canada is a lot smaller than us. We could probably beat them in a war, but I don’t think it’s the war we want to pick, so with that I don’t think this is a solution that we’re looking for.”

The federal policy represents a major shift in the U.S. after years of successful lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, which said imports would expose U.S. patients to risks of counterfeit or adulterated drugs. The FDA also previously warned of the difficulties of assuring the safety of drugs originating from outside the U.S.

But the politics surrounding the issue have shifted in recent years, with both parties — including former President Donald Trump — doubling down on the import approach.

But even as U.S. politicians applauded the plan, Canadian health providers said it was impractical given the supply challenges the country already faces. The FDA’s approval of drug imports from Canada has sparked opposition in Canada.

“Historically, we’ve had some pretty devastating drug shortages in Canada,” Joelle Walker, spokesperson for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in January. “So the idea that they could import them from us is not really feasible.”

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