May 24, 2018

Trump takes swipe at drug pricing fix with new blueprint

12 May 2018, 08:06 | Rufus Hill

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on tax reform at the Cleveland Public Auditorium in Cleveland Ohio U.S. May

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on tax reform at the Cleveland Public Auditorium in Cleveland Ohio U.S. May

A health insurer group says it likes some of the Trump administration's new proposals for controlling drug prices but believe that others could increase prices, by limiting health insurers' ability to negotiate with the manufacturers.

In other words, pharmaceutical companies don't need to charge more in the United States to offset research costs for drugs that they sell elsewhere; they do so because they can. "Previous leaders have turned a blind eye to this incredible abuse, but under this administration, we're putting American patients first". The government now can't negotiate prices for drugs that are part of Medicare's Part D program, which covers most prescription drugs.

"Health insurance companies and other providers spent another $200 million to protect the status quo and to keep prices artificially high", Trump said.

But as president he has shied away from major reforms and staffed his administration with appointees who have deep ties to the industry, including health secretary, Alex Azar, a former top executive at Eli Lilly.

He also said that the Food and Drug Administration would speed up the approval process for cheaper over-the-counter medicines so that patients can get more medicines without having to pay for prescription drugs. Instead he focuses on private competition and more openness to reduce America's prescription pain. He also promised to make it more expensive for "free-riding" foreign countries to produce drugs, arguing that they take advantage of USA manufacturers' research and development.

Finally, he gave the administration credit for already giving Americans an $8.8 billion break on drug costs, via its approvals of generic drugs.

Health care stocks were volatile during Trump's speech, with shares of companies involved in the pharmaceutical supply chain, such as Express Scripts Holding Co and CVS Health Corp, hitting session lows.

Require Medicare Part D drug plans to share a minimum portion of drug rebates with patients.

Topher Spiro, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, argued that a major reason pharma stocks rose as Trump formally announced his plan is because the president placed blame for high US drug prices on the low prices in nations with "socialized healthcare"-exonerating American drug giants from any blame for soaring costs".

Two proposed regulations to loosen rules about what benefits health insurance plans must provide will likely drive up the cost of medical care for sicker Americans who need more comprehensive coverage, including prescription drugs. This will also be a big win for patients and a direct rebuke to pharmaceutical manufacturers who have been driving up the cost of drugs in recent years.

But his plan shies away from his campaign pledge to use the massive buying power of the government's Medicare program to directly negotiate lower prices for seniors. Medicare will continue to be prohibited from directly negotiating prices by law. According to statistics of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States has the highest annual health expenditures of any industrialized country, at almost $10,000 per capita, with drugs prices playing a major role.

"We are outraged that he has chosen to side with the powerful multinational pharmaceutical corporations and against American retirees and consumers", Fiesta said.

And the system for paying for the drugs dispensed under Medicare's Part B program also has to change, Azar added. But the costs of R&D actually don't explain the elevated price of US drugs compared with the rest of the world. And the policy document that was supposed to detail his vague remarks offered more flash than specifics.

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