To tame prescription prices, HHS dips a toe into drug importation stream

Determined to explore more avenues to address rising drug prices, the Trump administration is signaling that it is willing to consider the importation of prescription drugs.

Determined to explore more avenues to address rising drug prices, the Trump administration is signaling that it is willing to consider the importation of prescription drugs. "They're approaching it incrementally and wisely, they're focusing on prices where there’s a need," says Dan Mendelson, the founder of health care consultant company Avalere and an official in the Clinton White House. "It is certainly more narrow than the way others have conceptualized it." The working group HHS Secretary Alex Azar convened will study importation to combat sudden price increases in specific drugs. The focus is on temporarily bringing in cheaper similar or identical drugs to introduce competition into the U.S. market. The medicines must be off-patent and have only one manufacturer here. "This is a workable solution to a discrete problem," says Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Others have criticized the plan's limited scope. "This could just be a dog-and-pony show, where they’re calling in an expert group to explore avenues of importation—but when all is said and done, they find that they don't want to do this," says Gabriel Levitt, the cofounder of PharmacyChecker.com. Since the group's work applies primarily to the generic drug market, a new policy would stop short of taming the price spirals and high launch prices of blockbuster brand-name drugs.