In his new op-ed defending the Trump administration’s failures on drug pricing published in Stat this morning, Secretary Alex Azar rambled about drug pricing without acknowledging any of the ways the Trump administration has time and again protected the rigged system that makes the drug companies even richer, while making people who work for a living pay higher prices for drugs.

  1. Pharmaceutical Companies Have Reaped Billions Of Dollars From The Trump Tax Bill. The Trump tax scam means billions of dollars in tax breaks for pharmaceutical companies. An Axios study found that 21 health care companies collectively expect to gain $10 billion in tax savings during 2018 alone. Most of the tax break windfall for health care companies is going toward share buybacks, dividends, acquisitions and paying down debt. According to Axios, nine pharmaceutical companies are spending a combined $50 billion on new share buyback programs.
  2. The Administration Has Consistently Advocated For The Repeal Of The Affordable Care Act, Including Its Requirement That Insurance Companies Cover Prescription Drugs. After the Trump administration tried and failed to repeal the ACA legislatively, it took to the courts in hopes of eliminating the health law. In 2018, the Justice Department decided not to defend the Affordable Care Act in court against a lawsuit seeking to overturn it. Since, a federal judge has ruled to overturn the law, including its requirement that insurance companies cover patients’ prescription drugs.
  3. One Trump Administration Proposal Would Let Insurance Companies Stop Covering Brand Name Drugs, Which Some Consumers Rely On. Under the proposal, consumers who rely on brand-name prescription drugs when generics are available would face higher costs. Insurance companies would be able to calculate a consumer’s out-of-pocket spending based solely on generic equivalents of brand-name drugs, meaning if a brand name drug had a $25 co-pay associated with it and the generic version had a $5 co-pay, if a consumer paid a $25 co-pay on a brand-name drug the insurance company would only have to include the $5 co-pay associated with the generic in the consumer’s out-of-pocket spending. This means consumers who rely on brand-name drugs have to pay significantly more in out-of-pocket costs to get the medication they need. Advocates, such as Carl Schmid of the AIDS Institute have warned that this proposal “increases the likelihood that people won’t pick up their drugs, won’t take their drugs.”
  4. Trump Installed Big Pharma Executives In Key Administration Posts. The author of op-ed, Alex Azar himself is a former Eli Lily executive. Trump’s appointment of Scott Gottlieb at FDA was described as “music to pharma’s ears.” Other pharma lobbyists writing Trump’s health policy include senior adviser at FDA, Keagan Lenihan, who joined the administration after lobbying for the drug distribution giant McKesson, former Gilead lobbyist, Joe Grogan, who reviews health care regulations at the Office of Management and Budget and is expected to soon lead the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, and Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Lance Leggitt, who has lobbied for a variety of drug-industry clients.
  5. Trump’s Proposals Always Fall Far Short Of His Promises. President Trump promised that he would allow Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate drug prices directly with suppliers, but after meeting with pharmaceutical executives early in 2017, Trump abandoned that pledge, calling it “price fixing” that would hurt “smaller, younger companies.”
  6. In The Past Year, Drug Companies Have Seen Massive Profits And Price Increases. Pharmaceutical companies raked in more than $30 billion in profits in the third quarter of 2018, with Pfizer alone bringing in $4.1 billion — the highest of any publicly traded health care company. Of the 19 companies that tallied at least $1 billion of third-quarter profit, 14 were drug companies.  Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies continue to increase prices. In January 2019 alone, Pfizer and Novartis announced price increases on dozens of drugs, including increasing the cost of a breast cancer medication to $12,000 for 21 pills. All in all, nearly 30 drugmakers are expected to raise prices in 2019. One drug industry lobbyist has said that drug companies’ limited concessions are “a calculated risk” summarizing big pharma’s strategy to play the Trump administration: “take these nothing-burger steps and give the administration things they can take credit for.”