Trump and health secretary outline ‘blueprint’ to lower drug prices

Drug policy experts and price advocates on Friday panned a long overdue speech by Donald Trump on drug prices.

As part of the speech, the US health secretary Alex Azar suggested drug companies should be required to disclose pharmaceutical prices in advertisements as an incentive to set lower prices.

Along with the speech, the president released a “blueprint” to lower drug prices. However, many proposals had already been made public in the administration’s budget and most were technical rule changes which can be accomplished without Congress. Drug policy analysts said most the proposals would be unlikely to “materially harm industry”. Following Trump’s speech, health stocks rose.

The administration’s blueprint also proposed lifting the pharmacist “gag” rule, so pharmacists can tell consumers when a drug is cheaper without their health insurance. Such provisions are written into contracts between pharmacists and benefit managers, who act as middlemen between the consumer and the health plan.

Trump criticized drug industry lobbying and cheaper prices European nations pay for drugs. He said his administration would “derail the gravy train for special interests” and “end Obamacare’s twisted incentives that encourage higher drug prices”.

The comments come days after it was revealed Swiss drug company Novartis paid Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, $1.2m to “advise” executives. Prior to becoming Trump’s health secretary, Azar was a pharmaceutical executive who was criticized for raising the price of insulin at Eli Lilly.

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Trump campaigned on a promise to let Medicare, a public health insurance program for the elderly, negotiate bulk discounts for drugs, similar to how European countries secure discounts on drugs. The promise was a rare subject of agreement between Democrats and Trump, who pledged to help him pass such a proposal.

However, after more than a year of virtual silence on the subject, Trump did not address that promise in his speech. The first indication Trump would drop the campaign promise came days after he was inaugurated, following a meeting with pharmaceutical lobbyists.

Trump also argued that foreign countries should pay more for drugs, but did not address how that would lower drug prices in America.

“In some cases, medicine that costs a few dollars in a foreign country costs hundreds of dollars in America for the same pill, with the same ingredients, in the same package, made in the same plant,” said Trump. “It’s unfair and it’s ridiculous, and it’s not going to happen any longer.”

“The speech itself did not include significant new info that was not present in the president’s budget blueprint, the CEA white paper, or the releases issued by admin members over the past few weeks,” said Rachel Sachs, a drug policy expert and associate law professor at Washington University in Missouri.