Law­mak­ers chal­lenge Trump on vow to re­duce drug prices

Lib­eral law­mak­ers chal­lenge Trump with drug cost leg­is­la­tion that echoes some of his own themes

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD -

“To­day I say to Pres­i­dent Trump, if you are se­ri­ous about low­er­ing the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs in this coun­try, sup­port our leg­is­la­tion and get your Repub­li­can col­leagues on board.” — Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt.

WASHINGTON — Chal­leng­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to make good on his pledge to cut pre­scrip­tion drug prices, con­gres­sional lib­er­als pro­posed leg­is­la­tion last week to bring U.S. prices in line with the much lower costs in other coun­tries.

The Demo­cratic bills stand lit­tle chance of be­com­ing law in a di­vided gov­ern­ment. But the ef­fort could put Repub­li­cans on the de­fen­sive by echo­ing Trump’s pledge to force drug­mak­ers to cut prices.

Democrats and Trump agree that peo­ple in the U.S. shouldn’t have to pay more for their med­i­ca­tions than do those in other eco­nom­i­cally ad­vanced coun­tries.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has put for­ward its own plan for re­duc­ing drug prices, but in­dus­try an­a­lysts have seen lit­tle im­pact so far. The phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try said the Demo­cratic bills would “wreak havoc on the U.S. health care sys­tem.”

The new leg­is­la­tion was of­fered by Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt., Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., and oth­ers. Cum­mings leads the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, which is ex­pected to take a ma­jor role on drug pric­ing.

The law­mak­ers want to:

♦ Open up generic com­pe­ti­tion to patent-pro­tected U.S. brand-name drugs that are deemed “ex­ces­sively priced.”

♦ Al­low Medi­care to di­rectly ne­go­ti­ate with drug­mak­ers.

♦ Let con­sumers im­port low­er­priced med­i­ca­tions from Canada.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse from the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“To­day I say to Pres­i­dent Trump, if you are se­ri­ous about low­er­ing the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs in this coun­try, sup­port our leg­is­la­tion and get your Repub­li­can col­leagues on board,” San­ders said at a Capi­tol Hill news con­fer­ence.

Holly Camp­bell, a spokes­woman for the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Re­search and Man­u­fac­tur­ers of Amer­ica, said San­ders’ plan would harm U.S. pa­tients. The in­dus­try ar­gues that gov­ern­ment price reg­u­la­tion could limit ac­cess to some medicines, un­der­mine fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for re­search, and com­pro­mise safety stan­dards. San­ders has said drug­mak­ers are pri­mar­ily in­ter­ested in pro­tect­ing prof­its.

As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Trump ini­tially called for Medi­care to ne­go­ti­ate drug prices and fa­vored al­low­ing peo­ple to legally im­port lower-priced med­i­ca­tions from abroad.

But Medi­care ne­go­ti­a­tion is a po­lit­i­cal non­starter for most Repub­li­cans, who fa­vor a free-mar­ket ap­proach to the U.S. phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try and prize its ca­pac­ity for in­no­va­tion.

As pres­i­dent, Trump has come out with a plan to lower drug costs that re­lies on dozens of reg­u­la­tory ac­tions. The goal is to elim­i­nate in­cen­tives for drug­mak­ers, phar­macy ben­e­fit man­agers and in­sur­ers to sti­fle com­pe­ti­tion at the ex­pense of con­sumers. In­de­pen­dent ex­perts say the ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­pos­als would have an im­pact, but not limit the abil­ity of drug com­pa­nies to set high prices.

Time and again, Trump has com­plained that other coun­tries where gov­ern­ments set drug prices are tak­ing ad­van­tage of Amer­i­cans. In­deed, one of his ideas would shift Medi­care pay­ments for drugs ad­min­is­tered in doc­tors’ of­fices to a level based on in­ter­na­tional prices.

The Demo­cratic bills would go far be­yond Trump’s ap­proach.

The new­est idea would es­sen­tially ap­ply to any U.S. patent-pro­tected brand-name drug, whether or not gov­ern­ment pro­grams are bear­ing the cost. By com­par­i­son, Trump’s in­ter­na­tional pric­ing pro­posal would not ap­ply to re­tail phar­macy drugs pur­chased by Medi­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries or to med­i­ca­tions for pri­vately in­sured peo­ple. It’s the re­sult of a joint ef­fort be­tween San­ders and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

Drugs found to be “ex­ces­sively priced” by the gov­ern­ment could face generic com­pe­ti­tion. A med­i­ca­tion’s cost would be deemed “ex­ces­sive” if its price in the U.S. was higher than the me­dian, or mid­point, price in Canada, the United King­dom, Ger­many, France and Ja­pan.

If the man­u­fac­turer was un­will­ing to cut its U.S. price, then the gov­ern­ment could al­low generic com­pa­nies to make a more af­ford­able ver­sion of the med­i­ca­tion. Generic drug­mak­ers would have to pay “rea­son­able” roy­al­ties to the com­pany that holds the patent.


Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt., spoke to re­porters in Washington about plans for leg­is­la­tion aimed at low­er­ing pre­scrip­tion drug prices. Join­ing him were (from left) Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md.; and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

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