President Donald Trump recently met with several Democratic lawmakers regarding rising drug prices, including Representative Elijah Cummings and Peter Welch. Representative Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been an outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical industry and drug pricing.
During the meeting, which was also attended by HHS Secretary Tom Price and Dr. Redonda Miller, president of Johns Hopkins Hospital, President Trump allegedly told the lawmakers that he is interested in taking action with respect to U.S. drug prices and believes it may be an area of potential bipartisan agreement as both parties continue to resolve healthcare issues and concerns in America.
Cummings and Welch presented President Trump with a bill to allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. The proposed legislation would allow Secretary Tom Price to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers under Medicare Part D, which provides coverage for prescription drugs purchased at pharmacies. An estimated 41 million Americans are covered under Part D, which is provided through private insurers who each have their own list of permitted drugs, and typically use pharmacy benefit managers for drug purchasing.
Representative Cummings left the meeting feeling optimistic, saying, “He made it clear to us that he wanted to do something,” and that Trump was “aware of the problem” and “enthusiastic.”
"He was clearly aware of the problem and he made clear to us he wanted to do something about it," Cummings said, adding "it boiled down to, again, saving people’s lives and saving money, and he was clear when you have situations where these companies are jacking up these prices it puts a lot of families in jeopardy."
While allowing the federal government flexibility in negotiating drug prices is not a new idea, Cummings and Welch both painted a picture on Wednesday of a political climate ripe for change with a president who “gets it.”
President Trump has always been a critic of the pharmaceutical industry, even throughout his campaign. He has threatened to use the government’s buying power to force prices down, but has yet to offer specifics as to how. In early March 2017, President Trump tweeted a promise to lower medicine costs and said he is working on a “new system where there will be competition in the drug industry,” a tweet that sent pharmaceutical stocks tumbling.
Reaction from Former Director of the Congressional Budget Office
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and now president of the American Action Forum, said the idea of lowering prices through Medicare Part D negotiations is "completely unrealistic."
Holtz-Eakin points out that insurers are already used to managing health care for beneficiaries and there are formularies in those plans. Adding into the law that the HHS Secretary should be part of the negotiations merely adds a "bully pulpit," he said.
"The problem with the negotiation in Part D is not a political, partisan problem — it's that it won't work," said Holtz-Eakin, adding that the Medicare Part D program is already holding prescription drug costs down because of the negotiating ability of the drug plans.