President Trump assumed office promising to take action to reduce drug prices and ensure that Americans could get access affordable medicines. On the campaign trail, he said drug companies were “getting away with murder.” And this week he criticized Kenneth Frazier, CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck, for resigning from his council and for charging high drug prices. But in office, Trump has not worked to curb skyrocketing drug costs or to promote more affordable medicines.
During the 2016 campaign Trump said he would allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors and import cheaper drugs from Canada and other countries. He has adopted none of these policies. The President has the power to certify that drugs from foreign countries are safe and allow them into the United States. He can also use Medicare to test new methods of paying for drugs. The federal government can also intervene when they have invested in drug research but drug manufacturers charge prices that are unaffordable for most Americans. Trump has taken no action on any of these issues.
Analysts said that Trump’s criticism of Mr. Frazier “sounds like a rant, but not one with any policy proposals.” David Mitchell of Patients for Affordable Drugs commented that “his rhetoric is full of fire and fury, but so far the White House has not taken any real action to lower drug prices.”
Senators have not been shy on this issue. In their recently unveiled proposal for a Better Deal, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi spoke about the importance of lowering drug prices. Senator Amy Klobuchar has introduced not one but two bills to allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prescription drug prices. Other Senators have introduced numerous bills to promote transparency and accountability from pharmacy benefit managers, to encourage competition in health care, to end manipulation of FDA regulations that blocks generic drugs, and to stop price gouging of various medicines. The administration has not exerted its political capital on behalf of any of the bills.
Earlier this summer newspapers received a leaked draft of the administration’s executive order on drug prices. It has few provisions that will actually lower drug prices. Instead, it is largely a giveaway to Big Pharma and PBMs, and may actually harm attempts to reform our current system.
We hope that the administration will change course. Prescription drug prices continue to be a huge problem for most Americans, who consider the issue a high priority. But so far, instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick on drug prices, Trump is tweeting loudly and carrying a small stick.