White House asks court to dismiss lawsuit over drug imports

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Biden administration is urging a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit that could stand in the way of states like Florida in allowing prescriptions drugs to be imported from Canada.

In a legal brief filed Friday, the White House argues that the lawsuit filed on behalf of U.S. pharmaceutical companies was premature because the federal government has yet to approve any importation programs.

The administration’s legal filing came on the same day Florida’s Republican governor, who is considering a run for the White House in 2024, called on the Biden administration to approve its drug importation application.

Florida and New Mexico are the only two states thus far to formally ask the U.S. government to allow federally approved drugs to be imported from Canada, arguing that doing so would save Americans millions of dollars in drugs costs. Other states have are poised to follow despite a lawsuit raising concerns by the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, the trade group that represents U.S. drug producers, over safety and costs.

In its legal filing, the Biden administration argues that drug companies “pre-emptively launched this wholesale attack” on a program that has yet to be implemented.

“Although two proposals have been submitted to FDA, no timeline exists for the agency to make a decision,” the government’s motion states.

During a Friday press conference at an empty warehouse, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the program could save Floridians as much as $150 million on drug costs in the first year of the program.

DeSantis signed a bill in 2019 allowing prescription drugs to be imported from the neighboring country, but the plan awaits federal approval.

The governor’s office issued a statement after the federal government filed its legal motion saying the “filing puts the Biden Administration on the record in support of the FDA rule which was based largely on Florida’s 2019 importation concept paper.”

The Florida governor has increasingly taken a combative tone against the Biden administration as he positions himself as one of his party’s leading critics against the current White House.

“It is disappointing that the FDA appears to have no timeline to review any state importation proposals as referenced in today’s filing,” the governor’s statement said. “Floridians have been waiting long enough for lower drug prices, and there is no good reason to keep them waiting.”

Some consumers have long crossed into Mexico and Canada to buy medicine that sells for far less than in the United States. But it’s against federal law to import drugs.

Last November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under then-President Donald Trump issued a ruling further opening the door for states to pursue importing prescription drugs. That same month, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America sued to challenge the new rule, accusing the federal government of failing to demonstrate the safety of importing medicine and any actual cost savings.

DeSantis and others have dismissed those concerns, saying that Canada, like the United States, has stringent pharmaceutical guidelines, and “we obviously would have our process to ensure quality.”

DeSantis said his state was ready to act swiftly to put its program into place should the federal government approve its request to launch a drug importation program.