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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – State employees have been thrown into the drug importation mix.
Amid a push by Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow Canadian prescription-drug imports, the House Appropriations Committee this week approved a bill that would require the Florida Department of Management Services to offer an international prescription-drug program as a benefit to state employees.
The proposal is included in a bill (HB 5009) that would conform state law to the House’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. The Senate has not included the drug-importation option in its budget bills.
The Department of Management Services oversees the health insurance program for state employees.
DeSantis has made a priority of trying to allow cheaper prescription drugs to be imported from Canada and has particularly received support from House leaders.
The House Health & Human Services Committee on Thursday voted 11-6 to approve a separate bill (HB 19) that would develop a broader drug-importation program, despite strong opposition from health-care interests, including physician and pharmacy groups.
All of the Democrats on the committee opposed the measure, which is now ready to go to the full House.
Shabbir Safdar, executive director of the non-profit Partnership for Safe Medicines, said his group is comprised of “everyone in the health-care supply chain who touches medicine,” from doctors to retailers to manufacturers.
“They don’t get along on almost any health issue or policy topic except counterfeit medicines,” he said.
Safdar acknowledged the high costs of prescription drugs and said the state should try to control them. Scores of bills have been filed in Congress aimed at lowering prescription drug costs, he said, noting that none of the proposals “sacrifice safety to achieve cost savings.”
“No one believes that is actually an acceptable trade-off,” Safdar said, contending that the Florida proposal would put people at risk.
HB 19, sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, would authorize the state, with federal approval, to establish the Canadian Drug Importation Program so the state can purchase drugs at a discounted price. That program would be established at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which is charged with state health care purchasing.
Another program, meant for individual residents, would be called the International Drug Importation Program. It would be established at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
The Senate, meanwhile, also has started moving forward with a drug importation bill sponsored by Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. The bill (SB 1528) is narrower than the House version.
Importation programs require approval from the federal government. The Senate plan also would require a program to come back for final legislative approval before taking effect.
(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Christine Sexton contributed to this report).