Trump, claiming progress in lowering drug prices, tells Congress ‘we must do more’

Published by STAT

WASHINGTON — In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Trump touted his administration’s work to reduce the price of prescription drugs and called on Congress to take further action.

But his remarks on the issue were light on specifics — and in some cases, misleading.

“Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years,” Trump said. “But we must do more.”

But he wasn’t talking about the actual “list prices” that drug companies set — and list prices did not drop in 2018. In fact, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar argued in an op-ed for STAT last week that drug prices continue to rise.

Instead, Trump was instead referring to a little-known statistical measurement called the consumer price index for drugs, which did show such a decline. However, researchers have found that particular measure diverges with other ways of estimating drug spending.

The line did not draw applause from everyone in the room Tuesday, but many of his other calls to lower drug prices did. The enthusiasm from Trump, as well as from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, underscored a growing sense that a divided Washington could legislate a change in the next two years.

In his address, Trump also highlighted the disparity between what Americans pay for drugs and what people in other countries pay for those very same medicines, an issue he raised in last year’s State of the Union speech.

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place,” Trump said. “This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it. I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients — finally.”

While that is true for brand-name drugs, it’s the opposite with cheaper generics — those are actually less expensive in America. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in May that Europeans were paying more than Americans for generic drugs.

Those remarks also hint at a Trump administration proposal that the pharmaceutical industry vociferously opposes, to tie some U.S. drug prices to the cost of those medicines in other countries. The idea is still in draft form, and HHS is evaluating whether or not to move forward with it.

Trump also called for “drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.”

Drug companies currently disclose the list price for their drugs — that’s the price that the administration has repeatedly said must come down in order to have lasting change for patients.

He also praised his administration’s efforts to date to address prescription drug pricing — even though many of the proposals that may have the most enduring effects are still in draft form.

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