president donald trump drug affordability
president donald trump drug affordability

By Venus Upadhayaya, Epoch Times

During a cabinet meeting, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told President Donald Trump on Oct. 21 that the federal government’s efforts have led to “the largest decrease” in prescription drug prices “in 51 years.”

While drug affordability has been a priority for decades, the Trump administration recently revealed some numbers behind its achievements.

“We’ve had the third year in a row under President Trump’s leadership of historic levels of approving generic drugs. Those are the affordable alternatives to brand drugs. We’re approaching 3,000 generic drugs approved under your tenure,” Azar told Trump during the cabinet meeting.

“That led to—just in the first 18 months of your term—$26 billion of savings for people from those more affordable alternatives,” he said, adding that the prices of prescription drugs have seen the “largest decrease in 51 years … under the Labor Department’s inflation index.”

Trump remarked last year that he has made reducing prescription drug prices a priority and is making efforts to find solutions.

A tracking poll published on March 1 by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit focusing on national health issues, showed a large majority of the public favors a range of proposed legislative and administrative actions aimed at lowering drug costs.

These measures include “requiring drug companies to list prices in their ads (88 percent), making it easier for generic drugs to come to market (88 percent), allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to get lower prices for people with Medicare (86 percent), and allowing Americans to buy drugs imported from Canada (80 percent).” The poll found that one in four Americans taking prescription drugs find it difficult to afford medicines.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (R) on reducing drug costs in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on May 11, 2018. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Safe Importation Action Plan

The Trump administration has released a concrete strategy to import affordable drugs. On Nov. 22, the president said he and Azar would soon release a plan that will enable Florida and other states to import affordable drugs.

“SecAzar and I will soon release a plan to let Florida and other States import prescription drugs that are MUCH CHEAPER than what we have now! Hard-working Americans don’t deserve to pay such high prices for the drugs they need. We are fighting DAILY to make sure this HAPPENS,” Trump said in a Twitter post, adding that his administration would soon put more options on the table.

An HHS spokesperson told The Epoch Times by email that Trump’s message refers to two separate items that are currently under review. “One is a guidance document, the other is a proposed regulation,” the spokesperson said.

“The president and secretary are very much committed to implementing the Safe Importation Action Plan that was announced on July 31,” said the spokesperson.

The Safe Importation Plan (pdf), jointly published by HHS and the FDA, allows two potential pathways to import drugs from foreign markets.

One would allow drugs to be imported from Canada, and the other would allow drug makers to import their own drugs using “a new National Drug Code (NDC) for those products, potentially allowing them to offer a lower price than what their current distribution contracts require.”

Azar told Trump during the cabinet meeting that his department is working on the scheme to import drugs from Canada and is trying to get the “same kind of deals for the American senior that other developed countries are getting.”

President Donald Trump listens to a presentation about prescription drugs during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on July 16, 2019.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

While drug affordability has been a priority for decades, the Trump administration recently revealed some numbers behind its achievements.

Views on Long-Term Solutions

Almost a month after the HHS and the FDA introduced a new action plan to lay the foundations to import affordable drugs, the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) said that “it’s good news for the states, particularly for Vermont, Florida, Colorado, and Maine that have enacted laws and are working together on implementation strategies.”

NASHP, which defines itself as a “nonpartisan forum of policymakers,” also said that the state action relies on the federal government initiating rule-making, which could take years. It said that the Trump administration has sought feedback on its plans and various challenges to the Safe Importation Action Plan are workable.

David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, also expressed concerns about the time frame.

“President Trump has stated repeatedly he wants to bring the prices Americans pay more in line with those in other nations. We strongly support his proposals to do this. Any changes to accomplish this will take some time to implement if they are passed into law,” he told The Epoch Times.

(L-R) Patients for Affordable Drugs founder and cancer patient David Mitchell, Ashley Krege, and Laura McLinn testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about drug pricing in the Rayburn House Office building on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 26, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Alan Sager, an expert on health law, policy, and management told The Epoch Times that the “rising health care costs first came to be seen as a financial and political problem” in the early 1970s.

He said most of the efforts made during these decades to find solutions “did little to slow the cost increases.”

“Why is that? Because the pressure to contain cost is weaker than the pressure to keep costs rising. This applies to health care generally and, certainly, to prescription drugs specifically,” Sager said, adding that the pressure on the administration to contain high drug prices is not new and started rising 5-6 years ago.

“The main challenge is to promote genuine life-saving innovation while making all meds affordable for all people who need them,” said Sager who is also a co-director of the Health Reform Program at Boston University School of Public Health.

Mitchell reflected on other laws that don’t seek importation and that are waiting to be passed. He believes these could provide more sustainable solutions to the nation’s woes.

“HR3 (The Lower Drug Costs Now Act) and PDPRA (Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, S. 2543) are the two most important long-term solutions,” he said.

According to Mitchell, HR3 would lower drug prices for millions and save taxpayers $345 billion in Medicare spending from 2023-2029. It is awaiting a vote by the full House of Representatives.

The PDPRA that he said the Trump administration supports would restructure Medicare Part D to “cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs in Part D at $3,100 annually. Like HR3, the PDPRA would also penalize drug companies for increasing prices in Part D faster than the rate of inflation.”

Mitchell said: “Patients for Affordable Drugs now would like to see the president deliver on the promise he ran on—allowing the government to negotiate directly with the drug corporations for lower prices.”

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