James Wooldridge, Deseret News
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, speaks at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. A legislative panel agreed Monday that Utah should seek permission from the federal government to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative panel agreed Monday that Utah should seek permission from the federal government to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

HB267 would direct the Utah Department of Health to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an importation program.

"This bill is simply to ask a question," Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, told the House Business and Labor Committee. "We having nothing to lose and a lot gain."

The panel voted 7-3 to move the legislation to the House floor.

Thurston, the bill's sponsor, said the high cost of prescription drugs in the U.S. forces some people, especially those on fixed incomes, to skip or spread out their drugs, which is harmful to their health.

The American Association for Retired Persons supports the bill, Danny Harris, director of advocacy for AARP Utah, told the committee. He said the rising cost of drugs is outpacing residents' ability to pay.

Kelvyn Cullimore, president and CEO of BioUtah, said the goals of the bill are laudable, but the FDA has yet to approve an importation program for a state. The federal government has started to take the issue on its own, he said.

"To think this would go through easily is fallacy," he said

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Cullimore, the former mayor of Cottonwood Heights, said the bill makes no provision for savings getting to consumers. Also, Canada has no "track and trace" system and there's no way of assuring the drugs are safe.

Thurston said there is only one production facility for specific drugs and the FDA coordinates with countries throughout the world to ensure they're safe.

Florida recently received support from the Trump administration for a state importation program and there's no reason Utah wouldn't be treated the same, Thurston said.

"It seem an obvious thing to me to ask the question," he said.