President Donald Trump wants you to know he’s winning the war on drug prices.
For one month, in any case.
“Already,” Trump said during the State of the Union address Tuesday night, “as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.”
That comment may take a lot of people in the biopharma industry by surprise. Yes, drug price increases have moderated, as most any pharma exec will quickly tell you, but there’s been no rush by the drug makers to slash prices.
AP fact checkers tackled this one quickly. They concluded that Trump’s boast was connected to the December CPI on prescription drug prices, which dropped 0.6% — and which scores as the biggest drop in close to half a century. But if you look at all of last year, the price figure jumped 1.6%.
Paul Hughes-Cromwick of Altarum, a nonprofit research organization, told the AP: “It could be that something quirky happened in December.”
An AP analysis also found “2,712 price increases in the first half of this January, as compared with 3,327 increases during the same period last year.”
Trump will take credit for the December number. But he also wants Congress to pass legislation that directly tackles drug costs.
I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients. We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.
The administration has been pushing a new proposal to strip away the safe harbor protections that safeguard the rebates built into the drug pricing system we have now from anti-kickback provisions. Trump’s healthcare team is asking for a new fee-based system with discounts direct to consumers. And HHS Secretary Alex Azar wants legislation that would apply these changes to public and private operations.
Drug pricing has emerged as a bipartisan issue in a divided Congress. Democrats have been proposing new laws while Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Ron Wyden in the Senate have been trying to line up the top CEOs in the industry to testify later this month. So far, only Merck CEO Ken Frazier has publicly agreed to take the hot seat. The senators say they have another one, still anonymous, and Olivier Brandicourt’s people are reportedly checking his schedule to see if he can make it.
“This is an opportunity for companies that produce life-saving treatments to explain how they price these treatments and whether the status quo is acceptable,” Grassley said in a statement. “Patients and taxpayers deserve to hear from leaders in the industry about what’s behind this unsustainable trend and what can be done to lower costs.”
The top execs at AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, J&J and Pfizer also qualified for the least coveted invitations in Washington, DC.
The president is likely to find considerable warmth for his proposal on Tuesday to spend $500 million on research into new therapies for childhood cancer as well as a commitment to wiping out HIV/AIDS in 10 years.
Image: President Donald Trump delivering the State of the Union.AP IMAGES
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