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Trump Plan to Import Cheaper Canadian Drugs Won't Help Diabetics

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The latest Trump Administration proposal to import less expensive drugs from Canada excludes insulin. (Adobe Stock)
The latest Trump Administration proposal to import less expensive drugs from Canada excludes insulin. (Adobe Stock)
 By Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV - Producer, Contact
December 20, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Trump administration this week proposed allowing states to import drugs from Canada, which officials say could save significant money for Americans. But healthcare advocates say patients are unlikely to see quick relief on prices.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, calls the proposal a "Band-Aid solution" that faces too many obstacles, including opposition from the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

He says what's really needed is for Congress to pass more immediate legislation. He likes House Resolution 3, known as the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

"What I would like to have happen even more is to have H.R. 3 pass in the Senate, which would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, and then would allow private insurance to piggyback on those negotiated prices," says Zuckett.

In announcing the proposal, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that allowing drug imports can move the country to a more open and competitive market to eventually reduce prices. But the Trump proposal also excludes many expensive medications, including insulin.

Zucket says excluding insulin is a major drawback for West Virginians, who have the second-highest rate of diabetes in the nation. His group recently helped charter a bus from Charleston to Niagara Falls in Canada for those who need to purchase the drug.

A vial of insulin in the U.S. costs about $300 without insurance, he says - while in Canada, the same product is $30. He blames the difference on corporate interests.

"The whole system is rigged in favor of Big Pharma and Big Pharma's profits, because they have high-priced lobbyists that can get the laws swung in their direction," says Zuckett.

West Virginians have been hit particularly hard by skyrocketing medication costs. The Mountain State ranks fifth in the nation for most money spent on prescription drugs, totaling $650 million in 2018.

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