With the new Congress now in session, lawmakers have been rushing to unveil legislation to rein in rising drug prices, and the Trump administration’s top health official has been talking tough about the issue.
* Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the new chair of the Senate Finance Committee, laid out three bills this week as top priorities. They include a proposal put forth with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to allow Americans to import drugs from Canada for personal use and a bill to ban “pay for delay” agreements in which manufacturers of brand-name drugs pay the makers of generics to delay production of competitors. (Grassley remains opposed to legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies, and he doesn’t favor the Trump administration’s proposal to tie certain Medicare drug payments to prices that European countries pay.)
* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and some Democrats on Thursday unveiled three bills aimed at lowering drug prices. The bills, according to the Associated Press, would allow consumers to import medications from Canada; let Medicare to directly negotiate with drugmakers; and strip exclusive licenses from pharmaceutical companies and open up generic competition for drugs whose prices are higher than the median price in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan. The international pricing proposal would apply to any patent-protected brand-name drug — far more than under the Trump administration’s similar proposal.
“The Democratic bills stand little chance of becoming law in a divided government. But the effort could put Republicans on the defensive by echoing Trump’s pledge to force drugmakers to cut prices,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes.
The Trump administration has ramped up the political rhetoric against drugmakers as well. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar sent a stern-sounding warning this week to drugmakers who raised prices to start the new year (see the Bloomberg chart below for some examples).
“Maintaining the status quo, where higher priced drugs are more competitive and patients pay more, is unacceptable. Companies that announced price increases in January admitted they were doing so to funnel payments back to PBMs in order to keep the preferred status of their drugs,” Azar tweeted Wednesday. “For those listening in the pharmaceutical industry: The list price increases must stop. Prices must start coming down.”
He offered a similar message in a Fox Business interview: “I want to be really clear to the pharma companies out there and to the pharmacy benefit managers: The president and I will not stop until list prices of drugs come down. This behavior has to stop. Drug prices must come down. And we will roll out more regulatory and legislative proposals, and we will work with Democrats and Republicans to get drug prices down.”
Trump himself tweeted Saturday that “Drug makers and companies are not living up to their commitments on pricing. Not being fair to the consumer, or to our Country!” And he called Azar and other top officials to the White House for a meeting on drug prices Tuesday.