Drug importation, by which I mean the process of buying much less expensive and equally safe prescription drugs from other countries, may see more sunlight under the Biden administration. For many drugs, the prices are frequently 90% less in other countries. Biden included drug importation among several policies he plans to pursue to lower drug prices. There’s momentum on drug importation from the Trump administration in the form of:
- An executive order calling for drug importation
- A final rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow wholesale importation from Canada
- A request for proposal for personal drug importation programs
- a request for proposals relating to the importation of Insulin
The question remains if Biden will prioritize these initiatives. The political and policy climates are favorable for him to do so. Importation is broadly popular among Republicans and Democratic voters. Lowering drug prices is a central health care concern in America. Drug importation has incredible potential as an effective policy to end the price discrepancies Americans face with other citizens in other high-income countries.
Veterans of this issue like me are sensitive to the history here from the Obama-Biden years. Obama famously made a deal with Big Pharma in which his administration backtracked on plans to reform drug importation laws and allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to lower drug prices. In exchange, Big Pharma supported Obamacare and helped secure its passage. Caving to Big Pharma is politically deadly and the Democrats will have less appetite to do so now than they did in 2009.
Finally, Biden’s call for unity, which I strongly support and admire, is at play here. Almost all voters want to see action on drug prices generally, and that includes importation. In drug importation, Biden finds a cause for all Americans to get behind.