Politics, Pricing

Cummings: Trump offers a high-five on Medicare drug price negotiations, a federal formulary and imports

Rep. Elijah Cummings came out of a meeting with President Trump on Wednesday with a high-powered endorsement on Medicare negotiations and another chilling message to biopharma execs that their day of judgment is at hand.

Meeting with reporters after the sit-down, Cummings said that Trump had enthusiastically backed their plan to repeal the law that prevents the huge federal agency from bargaining over drug prices and wants to go even further than that on price negotiations as he delivers a large dose of payback prescribed by his base.

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Trump “felt that they have been treated very unfairly by the drug companies and he said that it was something that he really wants to do,” Cummings added, according to a report from The Hill. “He said that he would join us in pushing a bill through.”

Repealing the non-interference clause that ties Medicare’s hands is just one part of the formula, and it’s something that Trump has repeatedly promised his supporters. The devil in any bill that gets through Congress will be in the details, and Cummings — a longtime critic of drug prices — has a plan that the industry already hates.

In addition, Cummings says that the president surprisingly expressed support for a bill backing low-cost drug imports to help combat high prices.

In the view of biopharma’s lobbyists, drug prices are under control, kept in line by cheap generics that obliterate drug franchises once they lose patent protection. And many in the industry have recently pledged to hold back on the big annual price increases that have sparked a new debate among lawmakers. The final discount price that payers cover is much less than the published list price. And the real culprits behind drug inflation are the middle men who manage benefits.

Cummings, though, is introducing a new bill that would blow right through that position and push for deep discounts, leveraging the full power of the federal government to slash prices.

In addition to striking the non-interference clause, Cummings bill also demands that Medicare set up a formulary, leveraging big discounts from drug makers who want to get their drugs in front of millions of patients.

In a release, Cummings noted that the Congressional Budget Office determined that simply allowing price negotiations at Medicare would have little actual effect on prices, but establishing a formulary would create a structure ensuring deep discounts.

Trump is likely to face considerable opposition from members of his own party who support the non-interference clause. But with an ally in the White House who has repeatedly attacked outrageous drug prices, vowing to deregulate drug development in order to reduce the cost of R&D, Democrats may be close to achieving something they could never get under Barack Obama.

Exactly what that brand of deregulation will actually look like remains in the air, along with Trump’s pick for FDA commissioner. But we should know a lot more on that score in the next few weeks. Until then, we’re left with Trump’s most recent tweet on the topic of drug prices.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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