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Trump proposes rule for importing prescription drugs from Canada – CBC.ca

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The Trump administration proposed a rule Wednesday to allow states to import prescription drugs from Canada, moving forward a plan announced this summer that the president has said will bring cheaper prescription drugs to Americans.

Importation of drugs from Canada as a way to lower costs for U.S. consumers has been considered for years. Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), called the move “a historic step forward in efforts to bring down drug prices and out-of-pocket costs.”

Industry trade groups in both countries opposed the plan, saying it will not lower costs and could hurt Canadian drug supplies.

Azar said HHS would also offer guidance to drugmakers that wish to voluntarily bring drugs they sell more cheaply in other countries into the United States for sale here.

The pathways for importation were announced in July, when Azar unveiled a “Safe Import Action Plan.”

Many prescription medicines would be excluded from importation from Canada. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Azar could not provide an estimate of how soon Americans could start seeing cheaper drugs from Canada. The proposed rule would need to pass through a 75-day comment period before being finalized, he said.

“We’re moving as quickly as we possibly can,” he added.

Governors of states including Florida, Maine, Colorado, Vermont and New Hampshire have already expressed an interest in importing drugs from Canada once the pathway to do so is fully in place, Azar said. States would be required to explain how any proposed drug imports would reduce drug prices for consumers.

The proposal faces opposition from large U.S. pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Jim Greenwood, current head of biotech industry group BIO and a former Republican congressman, said that importation would not result in lower prices for consumers, citing nonpartisan budget experts and past U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioners.

“Today’s announcement is the latest empty gesture from our elected lawmakers who want us to believe they’re serious about lowering patients’ prescription drug costs,” Greenwood said.

Ottawa also has criticized the plan. Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. said last month that importing medicines from north of the border would not significantly lower U.S. prices. Reuters previously reported that Canada had warned U.S. officials it would oppose any import plan that might threaten the Canadian drug supply or raise costs for Canadians.

The federal government has suggested it could step in and block exports in the event that any such plans threaten Canada’s drug supply. In fact a previous government already introduced a bill in the House of Commons that would have allowed a block on exports.

The Paul Martin government introduced Bill C-83 in 2005 when American politics was previously awash in talk of importing from Canada. But it never became law, as the Martin government was defeated soon thereafter and the issue died down in the U.S.

Canada drug supply ‘insufficient’

“The drug supply is insufficient for the Canadian market, let alone trying to divert it to a much larger market like the U.S.,” said Daniel Chiasson, president of the Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management, a trade group that represents drug distributors.

“We’re not supportive of any policy initiative or policy proposal that has the capacity to threaten the stability of medications available to Canadians.”

The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPHA) was still analyzing the announcement Wednesday afternoon to assess whether it might have a practical impact.

“With an average of five new drug shortages reported each day in Canada, we are not in a position to supply a country 10 times our size. These proposals could significantly restrict the availability of medications for our patients,” CPHA chair Christine Hrudka said in a statement to CBC News. 

Speaking to reporters in Florida on Wednesday, Azar said Canadians’ cheaper drug prices were the result of a free ride off of American investment and innovation.

“Obviously the Canadians are going to be looking out for Canadians,” he said. “We’re here to put American patients first.”

Many prescription medicines would be excluded from importation from Canada, such as biologic drugs, including insulin, controlled substances and intravenous drugs.

Tip-toeing around big pharma

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has struggled to deliver on a pledge to lower drug prices before the November 2020 election. Health-care costs are expected to be a major focus of the campaign by Trump and Democratic rivals vying to run against him.

The Trump administration in July scrapped an ambitious policy that would have required health insurers to pass billions of dollars in rebates they receive from drugmakers to Medicare patients.

Also in July, a federal judge struck down a Trump administration rule that would have forced pharmaceutical companies to include the wholesale prices of their drugs in television advertising.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are proposing drug pricing bills that contain some of the proposals Trump has advocated, such as indexing public drug reimbursements to foreign drug costs.

But Trump has said he will veto the Democrat-led House bill if it comes to his desk on the grounds that it would slow down innovation.

“Once again, the Trump White House is tiptoeing around big pharma with a spectacularly pinched and convoluted proposal that excludes insulin and has no actual implementation date,” said Henry Connelly, a spokesman for U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

“If President Trump actually wants to lower drug prices, he should pick up the phone and tell Senator McConnell to send him the House-passed Lower Drug Costs Now Act.” 

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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