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Minnesotans question, praise Trump drug import plan

August 1, 2019
Travis Paulson of Eveleth, Minn., points out the insulin that he purchased on a recent to trip, Saturday May 4, 2019 in Eveleth, Minn. Travis lead a caravan for six Minnesotans who traveled to Ontario Canada to purchase insulin. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Travis Paulson of Eveleth, Minn., points out the insulin that he purchased on a recent to trip, Saturday May 4, 2019 in Eveleth, Minn. Travis lead a caravan for six Minnesotans who traveled to Ontario Canada to purchase insulin. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota residents and lawmakers are praising and questioning the Trump administration’s plan to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, signaling a continuing divide over high prices for life-sustaining medications.

The proposal announced Wednesday would enable states to launch their own drug importation programs as long as they ensure medicines are safe and consumers see a “significant reduction” in costs. The move is a step toward fulfilling a 2016 campaign promise by President Donald Trump.

But there are strings attached.

The plan indicates insulin could be imported only if drug manufacturers agreed to allow reimportation of their own drugs from foreign countries. But the prospect of that seems unlikely.

It’s unclear how soon consumers will see benefits, as the plan has to go through time-consuming regulatory approval and later could face court challenges from drugmakers.

Stephen Ubl, president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, called the plan “far too dangerous” for American patients.

“There is no way to guarantee the safety of drugs that come into the country from outside the United States’ gold-standard supply chain,” Ubl said in a statement. “Drugs coming through Canada could have originated from anywhere in the world.”

But that isn’t stopping Travis Paulson of Eveleth, Minnesota, from purchasing his insulin from a mail-order pharmacy in Canada. His shipments come with the risk of being seized by U.S. Customs because it’s currently illegal for Americans to import prescription medications.

Insulin prices have soared in recent years, driving some diabetics to ration medicine or seek black market sources.

As for Paulson, who’s diabetic, he pays $57 for his insulin vial to be mailed or $27 when he purchases it in Canada— compared to the $150 co-payment a vial would cost him in Minnesota. He said the drug industry hasn’t proven it will do “the right thing.”

State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Senate health and human services committee, said the proposal can help lower prescription drug prices.

“Reimportation was and is my focus since session ended,” Benson said. “This is a major opportunity for us to fundamentally improve the lives of every Minnesotan whose life depends on prescription drugs.”

House Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, questioned why Trump and Congress wouldn’t implement prescription drug price policy similar to Canada’s

“I don’t think this solves the problem long-term,” Liebling said, noting that she was supportive of importing drugs from Canada as a temporary solution.

Quinn Nystrom, a diabetic who advocates for affordable insulin, said the Trump administration’s move was good, in theory, but won’t have an impact for years.

“We need something done yesterday,” said Nystrom, of Baxter, Minnesota, who recently led a group of diabetics to Canada to buy insulin.

“People are dying. We don’t have time to waste.”

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