FL sues feds over slow response to DeSantis’ drug plan; Biden already has OK’d cheaper drug prices

By: - August 31, 2022 4:43 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a Florida lawsuit against the federal government during a press conference on August 31, 2022. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel

After Congress and President Joe Biden approved a massive spending bill to allow Medicare to negotiate cheaper drug prices with pharmaceutical companies starting in 2026, Florida has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over delays in the state’s own plan to import cheaper medicine from Canada.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed the Canada initiative since 2019 and is still keen to see it through to completion, although the new law signed by Biden may not need to piggyback on pricing negotiations practiced in Canada or persuade the Canadians to go along.

But the plan needs federal approval that hasn’t been forthcoming.

“After 630 days, we still sit here waiting for an answer” about the state’s plan, DeSantis said during a press conference Wednesday.

“It’s our view that we’ve waited long enough. Today we are taking action; the state of Florida has now filed a lawsuit against the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). They have unlawfully withheld an unreasonably delayed approval of Florida’s program and we think this violates federal law.”

The state filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Florida in Tampa against the FDA and Commissioner Robert Califf, plus the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Stuck in the starting blocks

“Florida’s ability to begin operating the program is stuck in the starting blocks because of defendant FDA, which must first approve the program,” the lawsuit states. “The FDA has asked for several minor clarifications and supplements but has provided no outward evidence of any substantive progress towards approving the program.”

The lawsuit mentions that DeSantis signed legislation in 2019 to direct the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to administer the “Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program” to reduce drug prices for Floridians, including Medicaid recipients.

“We created this plan, and it took a long time to get that just right. We sent it up to Washington during the (President Donald) Trump administration for approval from the FDA. So, this was in the latter part of 2020 — almost two years ago that they’ve had this,” DeSantis said during the press event.

He claimed that Florida was the first to propose its drug importation plan for approval from the feds.

“It’s just been sitting at FDA for months and months … and no action,” DeSantis said. “Biden is saying he wants this for consumers but yet his administration is not willing to act to approve it so that people have access to more affordable pharmaceuticals.”

DeSantis said “it’s hard to meet with people from the FDA,” alleging that officials are “very dismissive” and “very arrogant with how they’ve gone about this stuff.”

Two women hold signs in support of Gov. Ron DeSantis during a press event on August 31, 2022. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Before Gov. DeSantis and others began the press conference, two women held a flag in front of attendees that read, “DeSantisland Land of Liberty.”

Joining DeSantis was Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who both directed criticism toward the federal government.

“We are asking a federal judge to order the FDA to put an end to that delay and to approve Florida’s program,” DeSantis said.

At one point during the press conference, Moody shouted out, “Washington, Biden administration, do something! It’s become the do-nothing administration.”

State spending millions and no imported pills for Floridians

According to the federal lawsuit:

“Florida has also paid over $24 million thus far — and increasing at $1.2 million every month — for a program it cannot implement while the FDA remains idle. Florida retained LifeScience Logistics to import and distribute the prescription drugs obtained through the program.

“The contract is $14,921,196 per year, or roughly $1.2 million per month. Because the FDA requires SIP (Section 804 Importation Program) sponsors like Florida to estimate cost savings using prices already negotiated between an importer and foreign seller, and because Florida must be ready to start the program immediately once approval from the FDA is obtained, it was necessary to retain LifeScience Logistics and keep it under contract, including for maintenance of the warehouse needed for distribution.

“Florida has already paid over $24.3 million to LifeScience Logistics, which has been unable to deliver a single imported pill to Floridians because of the FDA’s foot-dragging.”

SIP is the program that would allow the drug imports — if the feds approve.

Ladapo said that Florida has outlined a comprehensive drug plan.

“Who would you rather have, Ladapo or Fauci?” DeSantis said, with a grin on his face as the audience cheered. That was a reference to Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who plans to leave his post in December. Last week, DeSantis described Fauci as a “little elf,” according to WFLA.

The Democratic National Committee issued a press release Wednesday, condemning the DeSantis administration and touting the Biden administration for lowering drug costs. DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a written statement:

“Ron DeSantis and his lackeys should be thanking President Biden for defeating Big Pharma and delivering lower prescription drug costs for millions of Floridians — despite his own opposition — and as Floridians struggle with some of the highest health care costs in the country. The gaslighting won’t work, Ron.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.