Another day, another Rose Garden speech, another Trumpian campaign promise down the commode. This time the target was his vow to let the federal government negotiate with drug companies for lower Medicare prices. Now that he is in office, Trump is happy to abandon his vows to consumers and continue to let drug companies put profits before people with reckless abandon.
Bait and Switch
One of the proposals in Trump’s drug plan was a capitalist fix to lower drug prices through increasing competition among drug companies. While Trump floated the idea of requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to state prices in advertising on television, it is unclear how this regulation would be put into place.
More importantly, he dissolved the threat that, during his campaign, had scared drug companies most: using Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices on behalf of the federal government. Medicare involves 60 million people and 30 percent of all prescription drugs spending in the United States, but in this new plan, Trump replaces a bargaining sledgehammer with a toothpick.
According to Trump, the private prescription plans that are part of Medicare will have “new powers” in working with drug companies to lower prices for Medicare users. These plans are also supposed to convert the rebates and discounts they receive on drugs, so Medicare recipients will pay less. Yet many pharmacy benefit managers say they are already taking this action, and the real problem is the costs set by drug companies.
The Health and Human Services Department (DHHS) gave a few details on things they “may” do to convince drug companies to lower prices, but many individuals involved in health policy have criticized the hazy nature of Trump’s “plan.” Among them is Craig Garthwaite, who oversees Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management health care program. He noted, “The proposal is vague on details and filled with more slogans than actual sound economic policies.”
Pennies Back in Pockets
Another of Trump’s goals was to have faster approval of drugs that can be purchased without a prescription, as well as faster approval of generic drugs. This idea is in lieu of his campaign pledge to let consumers import prescription drugs that cost less overseas than they do in the United States.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the plan was how effective Big Pharma has been in lobbying the administration to take it easy on their profits. Far from shaking in their designer boots, pharmaceutical company executives rejoiced at the announcement, as their stock prices climbed in the immediate wake of Trump’s speech.
Yet for many of these policies to be put into effect, Congress must pass drug pricing legislation. There was great interest in this subject on both sides of the aisle, particularly from Democrats eager to return to the health care debate and push for lower prices on Medicare Part D prescription plans (as Trump once pledged to do).
When All Else Fails, Blame the International Community
Someone had to play the villain in Trump’s prescription plan, and this role was given to countries that Trump claims “extort” drug companies so their citizens pay less than Americans for the same medications. Trump labeled this behavior “cheating” as opposed to “paying a reasonable price for prescription drugs.” His plan includes convincing other countries to charge more for these drugs, so pharmaceutical companies will allegedly decrease the cost for people in the United States.
Across the globe, the international community was vastly underwhelmed by Trump’s pricing arguments. As one spokesperson for the the E.U said, “Drug manufacturers in the United States set their own prices, and that is not the norm elsewhere in the world.”
As for Trump’s condescension of other countries for “taking advantage” of poor little drug companies, Dr. Mitchell Levine, the head of Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, explained, “With our price regulations, drug companies are still making profits — just lower profits than in the United States.” The commission he leads is designated to assess drug prices, and make sure they are not excessive.
With Trump’s unleashing of another tangled web of words, we must weave between the lines to see how this “plan” is a means to disadvantage consumers and allow Big Pharma to put profits before people. It is no wonder that other countries don’t follow suit, and instead endeavor to provide a quality and low-cost health care system to their citizens.