Trump’s Drug Plan: A Tweet is not a Health Care Strategy

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Ron Dellums

It has been two months since the President released his plan to reduce drug prices. So far the only result has been the decision to delay the planned increases for six months for Pfizer and Novartis. This delay came only after numerous angry tweets, phone calls and follow-up meetings with the President Trump. So much for the “voluntary massive drops in prices” that the President promised after his plan was released.

So far, the Department of Health and Human Services, led by a former lobbyist for the drug maker Ely Lilly, hasn’t announced any new regulations or programs to reduce drug prices based on the new plan. Alex Azar has suggested making drug companies list prices in their ads and has pushed to end rebates. If anything, these proposals will end up hurting patients. Drug companies will find a way to list the lowest possible price in their ads, only to surprise customers that don’t have the perfect insurance plan. In addition, a recent study shows that rebates actually help control prices through negotiations, and getting rid of rebates could actually make the problem worse.

A tweet-and-take-credit strategy is nothing new for the President Trump. It isn’t good enough for the President to talk tough on drug pricing. We must elect representatives who will to take on the health care debate to ensure affordable, quality comprehensive healthcare. We desperately need policies to help struggling families that cannot afford the skyrocketing cost of medical bills. One in five Americans must choose between skipping doses or not filling expensive prescriptions. This is unacceptable. voters are going to have drug prices on the top of their minds when they go to the polls.

During his speech on drug prices, the President didn’t mince words and pointed directly at the source of the problem: drug companies, their extensive lobbying efforts, and their undue influence over lawmakers in Washington. The President said, “The drug lobby is making an absolute fortune at the expense of American consumers. No industry spends more money on lobbying than the pharmaceutical health products industry. Last year, these companies spent nearly $280 million on lobbyists. That’s more than tobacco, oil, and defense contractors combined.”

The President has often made the charge that the drug lobby is making an absolute fortune at the expense of American consumers. However, when it was time to take action in order to reduce the cost of drugs, President Trump failed to do so.

The only way that we are going to get real and lasting savings on drug prices is by introducing transparency and competition, we already know this model works. Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs, work on behalf of corporations, cities, and insurance companies to get the best deals on drug prices. The work of the PBMs benefit consumers by increasing competition among drug companies to vie for a spot on the approved list of drugs that insurance companies will cover, offering rebates, and encouraging generic substitutions for high-cost branded medication. PBMs save payers and patients an average of $491 per person per year, reducing drug costs for over 266 million Americans.

We need to let Medicare and Medicaid use the PBM model to negotiate lower drug prices using their huge leverage and bargaining power. Massachusetts asked for a waiver to do just that in its Medicaid program, but the Trump Administration blocked it, forcing them to pay for all drugs, no matter what the cost.

Hint to the President and the Trump Administration… This negotiating power is the reason that the countries with government-run healthcare programs pay so much less for the same medication than we do in the United States. If you want to “Put American Patients First,” letting Medicare and Medicaid create competition through negotiations is how you do it!

The late Honorable Ronald Dellums lived in Washington D.C., where he Chaired The Dellums Institute for Social Justice, he has been in politics for over forty years. He has held positions on the Berkeley City Council, in the US House of Representatives, and was the mayor of Oakland from 2007 to 2011.

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