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By GENE H. McINTYRE
President Donald Trump has fulfilled few of his campaign promises. One in mind that he could already have done something about is when he announced well over a year ago that, “I’m going to bring down drug prices. I don’t like what’s happened with drug prices.” In February 2016, he went so far as to promote the idea of the government using its market strength to reduce drug prices.
“I said to myself, wow, let me do some numbers. If we competitively bid drugs in the United States, we can save as much as $300 billion a year.” That statement was an ambitious one even for Donald Trump, who views himself as a master dealmaker. American drug buyers spent $450 billion on prescriptions in 2016. Hence, Trump was figuring he could twist drug company arms into huge price cuts.
You may remember that as recent as last October he once again promised to reduce drug prices for Americans. He said at that time, as he did earlier, that drug companies are “frankly getting away with murder” and further that his administration is “going to get prescription drug prices way down.” Recently, Trump was provided help from the National Academy of Sciences (NAC) that gave him a realistic road map to embrace his goal regarding drug prices. The NAC provided guidance by its report, Making Medicines Affordable: A National Imperative.
Appearing in The Oregonian last month was a column by David Lazarus who wrote under the title, A road map to cutting drug prices Trump should follow.
Having an interest in this subject parallel to my own, Lazarus contacted the White House to inquire when Trump will announce his advocacy for the common sense ideas in the NAC’s report and fulfill his vow to make medications more available and affordable. Lazarus reports that he was unable to get a White House answer but instead was directed to what has become a dead end source, the now-nearly defunct and out-of-order U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
So, there’s only a dark hole between what have been Trump pledges on drug prices and what’s become of his many pledges when he’s said he was bound and determined to do something about those deplorable drug prices. The truth is that he’s done nothing, period. Meanwhile, as for his promise also to drain the “swamp,” he has nominated a former drug-company executive, Alex Azar, to serve as HHS secretary. Hence, we may see pigs fly before Azar tackles drug prices.
If it’s difficult for you to guess where this matter will go from here, let’s recognize what happens if Azar passes muster with Congress and is appointed to secretary of health. You see, while Azar was head of U.S. operations for Eli Lilly & Co., among many outrages, the company more than doubled the price of insulin, a life-saving medication for millions of people with diabetes.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is helping Republican members of Congress and has already contributed nearly $13 million to GOP politicians for 2018 congressional elections. The top recipient, receiving $313,000, is Republican U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R/Utah), a voting member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Hatch promises not to run for re-election; nevertheless, one can be assured that he will help them as long as he’s there.
Of note regarding the Trump administration and GOP members of Congress on America’s health and human services: they were active in the tax bill to eliminate a provision in the Affordable Care Act that would have retained many Americans with health insurance. However, even though a specific amendment was on the U.S. Senate floor to control drug prices, our “representatives” chose instead to do nothing about what are viewed by many as highway robbery costs: U.S. prescription drug, prices.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)