WASHINGTON (AP) - After more than a year of bold promises, President Donald Trump is unveiling his plans for reducing drug prices. But they don’t include a key campaign pledge to use the buying power of the government’s Medicare program to negotiate lower costs for seniors.
In advance of Trump’s speech on his plans Friday, officials previewed a raft of old and new ideas to increase competition and improve transparency in the notoriously complex drug pricing system with the ultimate aim of wringing more savings for consumers.
It’s an approach that avoids a direct confrontation with the powerful pharmaceutical lobby, but it could also underwhelm Americans seeking relief from escalating prescription costs.
“Consumers are ultimately going to be the judge of this announcement,” said Dan Mendelson, a health care consultant. “If they don’t address the cost that patients see at the pharmacy counter it’s not going to be seen as responsive.”
A majority of Americans say passing laws to bring down prescription drug prices should be a “top priority” for Trump and Congress, according to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As a candidate, Trump railed against the pharmaceutical industry, accusing companies of “getting away with murder.” 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.
Azar and other Trump officials have described the problem in stark terms and promised bold action.
“Every incentive is toward higher list prices because everyone in the system gets a cut off that list price except the patient,” said Azar, speaking on “Fox and Friends” on Friday morning.
He said one new proposal would allow senior citizens enrolled in Medicare who hit the catastrophic period to pay nothing out of pocket, “so really relieve a huge burden on our senior citizens.”
Parts of the plan were previously released in the president’s budget proposal and would require action by Congress. Those steps include: requiring insurers to share rebates from drug companies with Medicare patients and changing the way Medicare pays for high-priced drugs administered at doctors’ offices. Trump staffers said the new steps coming Friday could be taken immediately without congressional lawmakers, who are mainly focused on November elections. The measures aim to increase competition, create incentives for drugmakers to lower initial prices and stop foreign governments from “freeloading” off U.S. pharmaceutical research. But the officials gave few specifics.