President Trump and the State of Prescription Drug Prices: More Talk, No Action?

Some of President Trump’s pronouncements in last night’s State of the Union address were outright falsehoods. Others were simply misleading. Some, like his pledge to lower prescription drug prices, were likely hollow promises. Here is what he told assembled lawmakers and television viewers around the country:

“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. That is why I have directed my Administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.” – President Trump, 1/30/18

Like many of the President’s promises – to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, to bring back manufacturing jobs, and to protect Social Security and Medicare – this one seems dubious. His administration has been in place for an entire year and so far… hasn’t taken any serious action to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. The United States still pays more for prescription drugs than most other nations.

In fact, as Stat News points out, the President made an identical pledge a year ago:

“[Trump] met with pharmaceutical industry executives and said that ‘we have to get prices down for a lot of reasons.’ Just a few weeks before, he said that the industry is ‘getting away with murder.’” – STAT News, 1/29/18

Trump’s previous Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, seemed more concerned with undermining Obamacare than lowering drug prices — until he left office under a cloud of scandal.

Alex Azar, who was just sworn-in this week as Trump’s new Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, is a former executive at Eli Lilly, Inc. As a Big Pharma exec, Azar presided over prescription drug cost increases — and the company was scrutinized for allegedly fixing the price of insulin on his watch. He seems hardly the ideal candidate to lead a crusade against overcharging. Yet, Azar promised after his swearing-in to bring down prescription drug prices, echoing the President’s so-far empty pledges.

Seniors (especially those on fixed incomes) have a special stake in the Trump administration making good on its word. Soaring drug prices drive medical costs (and Medicare costs) ever upward. However, Medicare is expressly forbidden from directly negotiating lower prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. We have long argued that Medicare should have that prerogative. It could save the government – and patients – billions.

Allowing the importation of prescription drugs from Canada would also ease the financial pain we all feel when we reach the pharmacy counter. If the President were serious about reducing drug prices, he could get behind Senator Bernie Sanders’ Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Act. The legislation would allow pharmacists and individuals to import drugs from Canada while empowering the FDA to ensure the safety of those imports.

There are several bi-partisan proposals in Congress to facilitate the approval and production of generic alternatives for pricey prescription drugs. Where is the Trump administration in all this? On the sidelines, mostly. Bottom line: There are many steps the administration could take to make prescription drugs cheaper. The question is whether the President and HHS will truly take action — or simply say the right thing, and then do nothing.