As he celebrates U.S. Senate confirmation of his nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the U.S. Supreme Court, the restructuring of America’s trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and the lowest national jobless rate in 50 years, President Donald J. Trump must also take responsibility for the unrestricted increases in prescription drug prices.
Indeed, the exorbitantly high cost of life-saving or life-sustaining medicine directly affects more people than Judge Kavanaugh’s elevation to the highest court of the land, or even NAFTA 2.0. That’s because too many Americans, especially seniors, are still being forced to choose between paying for prescription drugs or buying food.
An exhaustive analysis by the Associated Press of U.S. list price changes for brand-name prescription drugs from Jan. 1 through July 31 in the years 2015 through 2018 reveals that there have been far more price hikes than cuts.
What is even more troubling is the reaction of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to the AP’s findings.
Azar conceded it will be a while before drug prices fall. He noted the complexity of the medicine market and its incentives for drugmakers to boost profits so they and the middlemen make bigger profits.
“I am not counting on the altruism of pharma companies lowering their prices,” Azar told the wire service. What is most noteworthy about the secretary’s comment is his insider understanding of how the pharmaceutical industry works.
He was a senior executive in Eli Lily Co.’s U.S. business for a decade when the major drugmaker dramatically raised prices for its insulin products.
Now compare Azar’s observations with those of Trump, as president and presidential candidate.
On the campaign trail in 2016, he repeatedly accused Big Pharma of “getting away with murder” and promised he would force a reduction in drug prices if he were elected president.
Since taking office in January 2017, Trump, the billionaire real-estate developer from New York City, has talked about the need to slash drug prices, and has even had meetings with the heads of the major companies. However, his administration has taken no action to accomplish what he had promised when he was running for office.
At the end of May, Trump announced that drug companies would be announcing “massive” voluntary drug price cuts within two weeks.
Not only has that not occurred, but the Associated Press analysis reveals that over the first seven months of this year, there were 96 price increases for every price cut.
The AP studied 26,176 U.S. list price changes for brand-name prescription drugs. The findings paint a picture of an industry operating without any government oversight with regard to the cost of necessary prescription medicine.
Here a revelation that highlights the power Big Pharma wields as a result of having major allies among Republican members of Congress:
In June and July, right after Trump predicted a major price cut, drug companies imposed 395 price increases and 24 decreases.
The two dozen reductions were up from the 15 during the same period last year, but increases still outpaced decreases by 16.5:1.
It would one thing if the exorbitantly high cost of prescription drugs was nothing more than a television soundbite. But there are real-live stories about what’s taking place across the land.
Earlier this year in Texas, the mother of two children was hit by the deadly flu virus but chose not to buy the Tamiflu medication because it was too expensive.
Heather Holland subsequently ended up in the intensive care unit, and doctors put her on dialysis. Holland’s body went into septic shock and she died less than a week after she first started displaying symptoms.
What is ironic is that Trump has publicly talked about taking on Big Pharma. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said he would force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid. The federal government does that with the Veterans Administration.
Trump also didn’t mince words in talking about the power of the pharmaceutical industry:
“They’re politically protected, but not anymore,” he said, obviously referring to the Republican majority in Congress.
But given the revelations from the Associated Press’ extensive reporting on this extremely important issue, the only conclusion that can be draw is that the protection now extends to the White House.
The wire service asked 24 large drug companies if they planned to cut prices. None said they did, though some didn’t answer.
Big Pharma has long argued that it needs to keep raising prices of existing drugs to pay for costly, lengthy research to develop new medicines.
But critics have challenged that justification.
“We have a broken pricing system,” said Dr. Peter Bach, who heads the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Trump supporters in old industrial regions like the Mahoning Valley were drawn to his America First campaign that included the revival of the steel and automobile industries, the restructuring of the North American Free Trade Agreement involving the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and health care.
“We’re going to have [health] insurance for everybody,” President-elect Trump told the Washington Post. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”
He promised “great health care” that would be available by filling out a “much simplified form.” The care would be “much less expensive and much better,” he said
But almost two years have passed since Trump was sworn in as president, and he has yet to keep his promises to provide health care for everyone and to force the drug companies to cut prices.
Trump is riding high today because the GOP-controlled Senate confirmed his nominee for Supreme Court despite widespread opposition.
His success in renegotiating NAFTA is a major campaign promise kept, while the low jobless rate bolsters his argument that his economic policies are working.
However, cost of prescription drugs will continue to politically haunt Trump and the Republican Party.