President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
“I just got off the phone with him,” Azar, who was speaking on “Squawk Box, ” said of Trump. “Working on a plan on how we can import drugs safely and effectively from Canada so the American people get the benefit of the deals that pharma themselves are striking with other countries.”
It’s unclear exactly what the proposal would look like. But Trump has previously supported a plan by U.S. lawmakers who have said they can lower high prescription drug costs by approving imports from Canada, where prices are lower.
In most circumstances, it is illegal to import medications from other countries for personal use, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The pharma industry and regulators have said importing drugs could threaten consumer safety. Supporters, including Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, say importing drugs from other countries would increase competition and substantially lower prices.
Trump, who is seeking re-election, has said he’s trying to bring more transparency to drug prices and, ultimately, lower costs for consumers.
The Trump administration has had a few roadblocks in its attempt to lower drug costs. Earlier this month, the White House said it had withdrawn its plan to ban rebates that drugmakers pay to pharmacy benefit managers. That news came three days after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., dealt a blow to the Trump administration by striking down a rule that would have forced pharmaceutical companies to disclose the list price of their drugs in television ads.
Last week, the White House said it is supporting a bill from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee’s ranking member.
If passed, that bill would make changes to Medicare, the federal government’s health insurance plan for the elderly, by adding an out-of-pocket maximum for beneficiaries at $3,100 starting in 2022. It would also penalize pharmaceutical companies if the price of their drugs rise faster than inflation.
Watch: CNBC’s full interview with HHS Secretary Alex Azar on controlling drug prices