TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to allow the state to import prescription drugs from Canada inched closer to passage Friday in the Florida Senate.

The Senate positioned a bill (HB 19) for a vote after adding amendments by Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who told senators they have two choices: “We can do nothing and next year we will continue to pay the highest prices for drugs on the planet, or we can do something.”

The bill would authorize three programs — the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program in the state Agency for Health Care Administration; the International Prescription Drug Importation Program in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation; and a pilot program run by the Florida Department of Health and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

DeSantis, with the backing of House Speaker Jose Oliva, has made a priority of importing drugs from Canada, arguing it could help reduce costs for Floridians. The Senate, however, has been more cautious about the issue during this year’s legislative session.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill April 11, and the Senate could vote as soon as Monday. The amendment added Friday means the bill would have to go back to the House for a final vote.

While the Canadian and International drug importation programs would require federal approval, the pilot program would not, according to the bill.

Both programs would be prohibited from including importation of controlled substances; biological products; intravenously injected drugs; or drugs that are inhaled during surgery.

The Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program would be geared toward drugs in government-related programs.

It would be open to pharmacists and wholesalers who work for the state Department of Health, the Department of Corrections or Medicaid. It also would be available to pharmacists and wholesalers who are employed by or under contract with developmental-disabilities centers and treatment facilities.

Some senators, though, were concerned that the imported drugs in the program would be limited to the certain groups, including frail residents.

“We are testing these medications from Canada, saying that we are going to reduce the price of drugs, by putting these people, I believe, at risk,” said Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach. “I don’t think people should be test products.”

The bill would require the Agency for Health Care Administration to submit an annual report to the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker about the operation of the program. The report would address issues such as a list of drugs that were imported; the number of prescriptions dispensed; and cost savings.

The International Prescription Drug Importation Program would be available to Florida residents. The program would allow drugs to be imported from manufacturers that are licensed in countries that have agreements with the United States for recognizing the countries’ adherence to good manufacturing practices for pharmaceutical products.

The bill also would direct the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Department of Health to “negotiate a federal arrangement to operate a pilot program for importing prescription drugs into this state. “

The bill doesn’t say who would be eligible for the pilot program or where it would be located.

(©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.)

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