President Trump’s 136 Question Marks on Prescription Drug Prices

After multiple reschedules, President Donald Trump gave a speech last week on prescription drug prices, unveiling a plan to address the issue that was underwhelming–several noted that the plan had few specific actions, and in fact literally had 136 question marks. While President Trump prioritized lowering prescription drug prices during his campaign, while in office he has largely capitulated to Big Pharma on a number of occasions.

President Trump promised to take on the pharmaceutical industry, but so far has done nothing but check items off their wish list. President Trump campaigned on negotiating down prescription drug prices, but so far only saw fit to offer corporate tax and regulatory giveaways to the PhRMA executives he met with last year.

Before taking office, President Trump had talked about negotiating prescription drug prices down during the campaign, and said in December that the drug companies were “getting away with murder… Our drug industry has been a disaster.  PhRMA has a lot of lobbies, a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power. And there’s very little bidding on drugs. We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don’t bid properly, and we’re going to start bidding, and we’re going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.”

In the meeting with PhRMA executives last year, he backtracked, saying “I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market. That included price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare, which is what’s happening.” Instead, he promised the industry corporate giveaways, saying “but we can increase competition and bidding wars, big time. We are going to be lowering taxes, we’re going to be getting rid of regulations that are unnecessary.” In January, Trump swore in a new HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, who was previously President of Eli Lilly USA.

Thankfully, California has led when the federal government lagged, passing legislation to prevent unexplained price hikes of prescription drugs that continue to harm our health system and our families’ finances. We hope the California legislature continues to confront prescription drug and other inflated health care prices, taking Big Pharma head on, from last year’s landmark law on drug price transparency to the multiple pieces of legislation currently pending in the state legislature.

Last year, the California Legislature passed and Governor Brown signed the most comprehensive prescription drug price transparency law in the nation. The law triggers notice and justification for any prescription drug price increase of 16% or more over two years. Big PhRMA actively opposed the legislation with aggressive lobbying and a paid media push, but a broad coalition of consumer, labor, insurer, school, patient, health provider, government, and other community groups joined together to ultimately win bipartisan passage of the bill. Also signed into law last year was a bill to prevent “copay coupons” that steer patients to more expensive medications when an equivalent but cheaper drug is available.

Four bills to help curb the increasing cost of our prescription drugs currently remain in the legislature:

  • AB 315 (Wood) would provide better information about price increases and spending associated with pharmacy benefit managers
  • SB 790 (McGuire) limits gifts that drug companies give to physicians to increase drug sales.
  • SB 1021 (Wiener) ensures that all Californians, including those living with chronic conditions, are able to afford life-saving prescription drugs by keeping co-pays affordable for consumers and maintaining standards for formulary tiers, helping consumers have access to the prescriptions they need.
  • AB 587 (Chiu) would codify a California Pharmaceutical Collaborative for state purchasers of prescription drugs to encourage
    collaboration among state and local agencies to reduce costs and produce savings, while also improving outcomes.

Read more about California’s efforts to target prescription drug costs in this factsheet.

The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking public comment on their plan.