LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis made a stop in Polk County on Friday to discuss lowering the cost of prescription drugs for Floridians.
The governor appeared at the LifeScience Logistics Distribution Center in Lakeland to discuss the next steps in a bill he signed two years ago to get cheaper drugs to the state from Canada.
“Basically, these are the same drugs, you just get them at a fraction of the price compared to what you do in the U.S. market,” he explained. “We did that because we understood the need that a lot of folks were feeling, and certainly the government – the amount of money we spend at the state-level on prescription drugs is outrageous.”
DeSantis said while the state is limited in what it can do because of federal regulation, he did identify a provision in federal law that allows the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada with federal approval. The provision has never been used, the governor said.
The governor said he went and met with then-President Donald Trump in 2019, pointing out that drug costs had risen more than 150% in the past 15 years, and urging him to allow the states to pursue less expensive alternatives from other countries. DeSantis estimated the program would save the state between $80 million and $150 million.
“Any guesses why it wasn’t utilized? Obviously, this is not something that Big Pharma wants to see,” DeSantis said. “Because it disrupts the current market where we have a restricted market here and artificially high prices.”
DeSantis said he told Trump that he wanted to access the drugs at a fraction of the price and earned the former president’s support. The governor then signed the bill in Florida and started working with federal officials in Trump’s administration to develop an implementation plan.
“When I first signed the bill, I told people ‘this is the first step.’ There’s a lot of hurdles you have to overcome but we’ve been doing it every step of the way,” DeSantis said.
Florida is now waiting for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve their importation proposal, according to the governor. DeSantis said it’s been under review for six months.
“We were told that if it wasn’t denied last week that we should assume it’s going to be approved but we want to get that final approval because once we do, all this stuff goes in motion,” he explained.
The governor held the news conference at the LifeScience Logistics Distribution Center to highlight the FDA-compliant facility that passed state inspection last week.
“We’re standing here in an empty warehouse with our partners ready to begin final implementation to safely import these FDA-approved drugs into Florida at cheaper prices,” he said. “It’s been under review enough. We have followed every regulation, we’ve met every requirement we were asked to meet and we want now to be able to get this final approval so we can finally move forward.”
DeSantis said at the state level, they believe somewhere between $80 million and $150 million will be saved by implementing the program.
A spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, Kimberly DiFonzo, said the agency does not comment on pending proposals, but noted the agency had not authorized any importation programs as of late Friday afternoon.
Still, DeSantis seems confident. If approved, the state said it will start with a limited number of drug classes, including maintenance medications for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD; diabetes, HIV and AIDS, and mental illness for those who are under state care, including foster children, inmates at state prisons and certain elderly patients.
The program would then expand to drugs for all Medicaid beneficiaries.