Donald Trump has released his plan for “Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again”, which includes a proposal for allowing importation of cheaper prescription drugs from other countries as one of the reforms he believes should be enacted in connection with repealing and replacing “ObamaCare.” Specifically, the plan states that Congress must:
Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products. Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America. Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.
Importation of prescription drugs has been proposed in the past by both Republicans and Democrats, and there are currently bills in Congress to permit this. Perhaps most notable is the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2015 (S.122), sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and co-sponsored by a diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota). When the Affordable Care Act was being debated in 2009, an amendment to allow importation gained 51 votes in the Senate, but fell short of the 60 votes required for adoption. The amendment had been supported by AARP, among others.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken issue with these proposals, arguing that it would be unworkable for the agency to ensure the safety of imported drugs, since the FDA cannot oversee drugs in foreign countries, among other issues. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have similarly opposed such efforts, on safety and other grounds.