Can Canadian imports lower U.S. drug prices?

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What's happening:

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders joined a caravan of people with diabetes crossing the border to Canada to buy insulin to highlight the drastic price difference of the medicine — which can be one-tenth of what it costs in the United States.

A new proposal from the Trump administration could make trips like these unnecessary in the near future. The plan would allow states, pharmacies and drug manufacturers in the United States to import prescription drugs from Canada.

Why there's debate:

Proponents of the idea say access to cheaper Canadian drugs would save the lives of patients who struggle to afford the medicine they need from American sellers. Drug companies in the United States would ultimately be forced to lower their prices to compete with less expensive imports, they argue.

The U.S. plan sparked significant concerns from Canadians worried that demand from the massive American market would lead to drug shortages or price increases in their country, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pledge to maintain a “steady and solid supply” of drugs in Canada. Others point out that the plan may not apply to some of the most expensive drugs, including insulin.

Skeptics on both sides of the border argue that the plan doesn’t address the underlying issues with the American health care system that lead to price differences in the first place. Canada's drugs are cheaper because its government uses price-control measures — something the United States could also do without intervening in another country’s pharmaceutical market, they argue.

What's next:

It’s unclear when Americans would be allowed to start importing medicine from Canada if the plan is put into action. The Trump administration may push other plans to lower the cost of drugs in the United States in the near future. The president has reportedly made the issue a key element of his reelection campaign.

Perspectives

The plan would lead to lower drug prices in the U.S.

“Not only would patients be able to get cheaper drugs from Canada, but adding the foreign market to the mix could force U.S. drugmakers to lower their U.S. prices to compete.” — Myah Ward, Bloomberg

Importing drugs comes with significant safety concerns.

“Neither the safety nor efficacy of imported medications can be ensured, placing every patient who takes these medications at great risk.” — Brooklyn Roberts, The Hill

The plan wouldn't have much of an effect on prices in the U.S.

“The vast majority of drugs Americans take are generics, which cost about the same in the United States as they do in Canada. So the only potential savings from importation will be on a small number of brand-name drugs.” — Sally Pipes, Forbes

The plan could result in drug shortages in Canada.

“If they’re importing large quantities of brand-name drugs, that’s where we could potentially see a problem. California’s got more people than all of Canada. If California wants to import ... there goes the entire drug supply, potentially, of Canada.” — Joel Lexchin, York University professor to CBC

Drug companies would find ways to work around lowering prices in the U.S.

“The stuff that is for sale in Canada at a relatively low price would cannibalize their sales in the United States. The companies will obviously devise ways to ensure that doesn’t happen.” — University of Toronto professor Paul Grootendorst to Global News

Americans need to solve their own problems.

“Unlike other developed countries, the U.S. government does not regulate drug pricing. Instead, they support a free market where pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever the market is willing to pay. … Ultimately, Americans need to regulate their own drug prices." — Kelly Grindrod, Toronto Star

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