Press Release
For Immediate Release
January 11, 2018


SALT LAKE CITY – Prescription drug prices have been on the rise, leaving some concerned how they will afford to refill their prescription. Representative Norm Thurston is sponsoring a bill, H.B. 163 Prescription Drug Importation Program, during the 2018 General Session, which aims to help alleviate some of the cost of prescription drugs for Utah residents by implementing a state-run prescription drug importation program that will create a safe, cost-effective, wholesale import for a select group of prescriptions.

On average, the price of prescription drugs in Canada is 30 percent less than in the United States. The legislation is designed to save Utahns a significant amount of money on their prescriptions, and it includes standards to ensure that the savings go directly into the pockets of Utahns.

“The United States is one of the largest, most loyal purchasers of prescription drugs, though, we are paying much more than other major purchasers,” said Thurston. “We need to take initiative to lower prescription drug costs for life-saving medicine. Utah is more than capable to administer a well-run state importation program.”

The U.S. drug market heavily relies on importation to supply the U.S. market. Currently:

  • 80 percent of raw ingredients for drugs made in the United States are imported from China and other countries;
  • 40 percent of finished drugs used in the United States are manufactured in other countries;
  • The S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had a cooperative agreement addressing drug regulatory matters with Canada for years, more than 30 Canadian drug manufacturers are FDA-registered to produce drugs for U.S. markets; and
  • About 20 percent of drugs licensed for the Canadian market are made in the United States.

“Rising pharmaceutical costs continue to be the most volatile part of the state budget in providing healthcare to its employees,” said Chet Loftis, managing director of PEHP Health & Benefits. “We deeply appreciate the opportunity to work with Rep. Thurston on H.B. 163, and policymakers in general, in lending our expertise on matters of public importance and actively exploring ways to reduce healthcare costs to the state.”

The safety and purity of the imported prescriptions is a crucial standard in the bill. The bill complies with federal regulations governing drug importation that require guarantees of drug safety and consumer savings. In addition, the legislation requires federal approval from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The legislation will safeguard the quality and safety of imported drugs by:

  • Contracting with licensed, regulated drug wholesalers and distributors in Utah and Canada;
  • Importing only drugs licensed for sale in Canada;
  • Testing imported products for purity on a sample basis if needed; and
  • Limiting distribution of imported drugs to only Utah.

The legislation will deliver significant consumer savings by:

  • Monitoring market competition among Utah wholesalers;
  • Ensuring that consumers pay similar prices to those charged in Canada; and
  • Widely publicizing the prices of the imported products so consumers know what they can expect to pay.

Thurston assembled a working group of stakeholders, including state agencies, commercial health plans, pharmacists and community clinics in early 2017 to outline how a wholesale importation program should operate in Utah.

The bill is modeled after legislation developed by the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), a nonpartisan group that works closely with state policymakers to develop state legislative and regulatory strategies to rein in pharmaceutical costs.


Aundrea Peterson
Majority Director of Communications
Utah House of Representatives