Will White House Ties To Big Pharma Prevent Real Drug Cost Reform?

Trump Reuters/Jim Bourg

Ronnie Shows Former Democratic Congressman
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This week, President Donald Trump, used his social media account to attack skyrocketing drug costs and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Just last week, Pfizer announced their decision to raise prices on about 100 of their products. On Twitter, the president wrote that Pfizer and other drug companies should be “ashamed” for raising their prices and “taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves.”

Shockingly, just 24 hours later, Pfizer reversed their decision. No doubt, it was the president’s efforts that led Pfizer to return their prices to where they were before they announced the hike.

Now, the White House is apparently working on a Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices. President Trump even states on the Blueprint’s website that reducing the cost of prescription drugs is one his “greatest priorities.”

To be fair, the president has sought to keep many of his campaign promises – even though I disagree with most of his policies. The question facing the president is will he hold the drug companies accountable by taking concrete steps (not just Tweets) to lower drug prices to help regular folks, or side with the multinational corporations that dominate his Administration? Because this president is so closely tied to the pharmaceutical industry, I am concerned they won’t bring down the price of medication in the United States, because it will slash drug company profits.

Keep in mind, the gentleman leading the agency with the greatest ability to reduce drug prices is a former lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. Before taking over as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar worked for the mammoth drug company Eli Lilly. Will an ex-lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry – located in the home state of Vice President Mike Pence — now implement policies that cost his former employer potentially millions or even billions of dollars in profit? Thankfully, this unseemly revolving door between government and industry was not a problem in President Barack Obama’s administration, because he refused to hire lobbyists.

In the meantime, the drug companies have been hard at work trying to blame everyone else but themselves for high prices. The pharmaceutical industry likes to assert that insurance companies, hospitals and the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are the real reason for high drug costs. But, in fact, the PBMs negotiate bulk prices for patients and return those savings to the patients. As one healthcare researcher points out, PBMs serve a valuable purpose because they both negotiate lower prices and encourage competition in the drug marketplace.

If the White House is serious about bringing down drug prices, they need to target the real culprits: drug companies like Pfizer that had the audacity to raise their prices as the Trump administration moves forward on their Blueprint. Now, to be fair, I support reforms to ensure PBMs always return the cost efficiencies to the patient (instead of pocketing it or letting their corporate clients keep the money). That said, real and impactful savings for American patients can only come from drug companies lowering prices, either voluntarily or through the government using its regulatory and marketplace power to foster the kind of price competition generated by PBMs.

In March of this year, the watchdog ProPublica found that this White House has hired nearly 200 lobbyists to work inside the executive branch of our federal government. We know that some of those lobbyists have close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Together, we must hold the president to his word to bring down prices. That means this White House will have to implement policies that force drug companies to charge patients less and cut their profits. Anything short of demanding the pharmaceutical industry cuts prices (and being willing to back up that demand with rules and competition to make it happen) will demonstrate the president cares more for big business than Americans struggling to afford their medications.

Ronnie Shows, a Blue Dog Democrat, represented Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District from 1999 to 2003.

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