Canadian ambassador says drug imports would not lower U.S. prices

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada does not have a large enough supply of prescription drugs to meet U.S. demand, and importing medicines from Canada would not significantly lower U.S. prices, Ottawa’s acting ambassador told U.S. officials in recent meetings, according to a statement published on Friday.

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s acting ambassador to the United States, said her country is “sympathetic to U.S. concerns regarding affordable prescription drugs.”

“Not only are we too small of a market, Canada cannot increase its domestic pharmaceutical drug supply to meet U.S. demand,” the statement said. “Canada remains dedicated to working with the U.S. to improve our citizens’ health and well-being, recognizing that Canada’s priority is to ensure a steady and solid supply of medications at affordable prices for Canadians.”

The statement summarized a meeting between Hillman and Trump advisor Joe Grogan on Friday, as well as discussions with other officials on Oct. 22.

It cited a 2019 study that projected that if 40% of U.S. prescriptions were filled from Canada, the Canadian drug supply would run out in 118 days. It noted that the U.S. state of Florida spends more on prescription drugs than all of Canada.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump called on the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, to speed up the administration’s efforts to allow cheaper medicines to be imported from Canada.

Trump and Democratic rivals looking to run against him in the November 2020 election have made lowering the cost of prescriptions medicines for U.S. consumers a high priority.

The United States, which does not negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, has much higher prices for prescription medicines than most other developed nations.

In July, the Trump administration announced that it would allow U.S. states and other groups to start pilot programs importing cheaper drugs from Canada in an effort to lower drug costs.

Reuters previously reported that Canada had privately told U.S. federal and state officials that the country would not support any plan to buy Canadian prescription drugs that might threaten its own drug supply or raise costs for Canadian citizens.

Reporting by Allison Martell, additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson; Editing by Bill Berkrot