Will Trump Keep His Promise To Lower Drug Prices?

REUTERS/John Sommers II

Ronnie Shows Former Democratic Congressman
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Soon after he was elected president, Donald Trump said at a press conference that drug companies “are getting away with murder” and that “Pharma 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.”

While I don’t agree with Donald Trump on much, I do believe he is right about the pharmaceuticals industry in the United States – they charge too much and the government does too little to negotiate lower prices for patients.

The latest news is that in the next few weeks, the president is going to make an announcement on lowering drug prices.

I have doubts the president will help Americans afford their drugs, for two reasons. First, this administration (which has shown itself to be very friendly to big business) will need to take drastic steps to reign in skyrocketing pharmaceutical prices. In fact, a recent report found the cost for the 20 most prescribed brand-name drugs, under the Medicare Part D program, increased at an average rate of 12 percent every year, between 2012 to 2017. Second, the pharmaceutical industry has serious sway in the Trump administration. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, the federal agency with the most influence on drug prices, is a former lobbyist who worked for a massive drug company.

Despite these concerns, I do believe the president is committed to keeping his campaign promises and lowering drug prices. To be fair, the president has kept his word on issues such as immigration and reducing environmental regulations on businesses. The question is: will the president try and do the same on outrageous drug prices?

The good news is that if Donald Trump does want to get serious about reducing drug prices, there are many tools available to the president. These include: allowing the importation of safe drugs from countries like Canada; reducing the amount of time before generic drugs can be introduced into the marketplace; blocking some of the mergers between large companies; and giving the government the power to negotiate lower prices for the 42 million Americans who participate in the Medicare drug-benefit program. To me, it is an outrage that federal law prohibits the government from negotiating better drug prices for the millions of people who get their drugs from programs funded by the American taxpayer.

The president should also allow the free market to work – including the entities known as pharmacy benefit managers (or PBMs) who negotiate better prices for patients who typically get health coverage through their employers. Drug companies don’t like PBMs, and try and blame them for high drug prices, but this doesn’t add up. After all, in recent years, drug prices have continued to climb, while most drug makers continue to make massive profits. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the correlation between those two data points.

It’s unfair, but Americans pay higher prices drugs and subsidize people across the globe who pay significantly less for the same medicines. For example, according to a 2015 report by Bloomberg: “AstraZeneca still charges more than twice as much in the U.S. for Crestor, a cholesterol pill, compared to Germany, and in other countries the price is even lower.”

Drug companies can get away with charging Americans more because they give generously to politicians and candidates. According to a report by National Public Radio, the trade association in Washington that represents the drug companies’ business interests “collected $271 million in member dues and other income in 2016. That was up from $220 million the year before.” That increase, no doubt, was to ensure that politicians support the policies which enrich them, while hurting regular folks who need drugs for their medical care.

As a resident of Mississippi, a state that is historically the poorest in the nation and that strongly supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, I hope the president will take steps to bring down drug costs. When it comes to standing up to pharmaceutical companies on drug prices, if the president keeps his word it will save lives by making costly medicines more affordable for sick Americans.

Ronnie Shows is a former Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from Mississippi.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.