The House on Tuesday gave final approval on bipartisan lines to a bill seeking to expand Colorado’s drug importation program, sending the bill to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.
Senate Bill 21-123 seeks to build on a program signed into law in 2019 that would allow Coloradans to import prescription drugs from Canada. The state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing estimates that would give consumers access to medications that would be on average 61% cheaper than in the United States. But that program has yet to be fully implemented in the state with a holdup based largely at the federal level.
Congress in 2003 approved a proposal allowing certain drugs to be imported from Canada if the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services deemed it could be done safely. Heads of that agency under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama opted against taking that measure.
But former Secretary Alex Azar, who ran HHS under President Donald Trump, approved a rule on the program in September. It’s unclear whether the new administration will move forward with that plan, but President Joe Biden expressed support for the concept on the campaign trail, and Xavier Becerra, Biden’s HHS secretary, voted for the Canadian drug importation proposal as a member of Congress in 2003.
While the federal government wrestles with the final steps in approving the Canadian program, the bill approved on Tuesday would put Colorado front of the line to reach foreign drug markets should federal law ever allow it.
“The expansion to other countries will allow us to have a greater return on investment on the structure that we've already put in place through the Canadian importation program and it will also enable us to open a larger supply chain to import these common, brand-name drugs for Coloradans,” Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat who carried the bill in the House along with Rep. Mike Lynch said on Monday.
Lynch, meanwhile, touted the impact the bill could have on senior citizens and those who take prescription drugs. The Wellington Republican said the bill would “allow us to reduce their costs of drugs that they need every day to stay alive.”
Rep. Ron Hanks gave voice to some of the Republican objections, saying on Monday he felt the bill was putting “the cart before the horse.”
“I don't think it's good legislative policy to guess what the federal government is going to do because we may have to pull it back,” the Penrose Republican said. “I'm a no on this until the feds send us something to work with and when they do, let's talk about it again.”
Thirteen of the 23 other House GOP members sided with Hanks, with Democratic Rep. Kerry Tipper of Lakewood rounding out the opposition. Ten Republicans, including Lynch voted with the House’s 40 other Democrats to pass the bill on a 50-15 vote.
The bill now heads to Polis’ desk.