Officially ditching his campaign promise to challenge the pharmaceutical industry head-on and allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices—a betrayal that may have something to do with the fact that the White House is currently occupied by former Big Pharma executives in key posts—President Donald Trump on Friday formally unveiled a plan ostensibly aimed at cutting medicine costs that analysts and progressive critics are already slamming as wholly inadequate and "pharma-friendly."
"Trump is proposing to increase drug prices abroad, probably through trade deals. This is the biggest item on Big Pharma's wish list! How the heck is this going to lower drug prices in this country?"
—Topher Spiro, Center for American Progress
Taking heat off the greedy pharmaceutical companies he once accused of "getting away with murder," Trump's plan shifts much of the blame for soaring drug prices in America on foreign governments that "use socialized healthcare to command unfairly low prices from U.S. drugmakers," according to a summary of Trump's proposals obtained by the New York Times.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who last October introduced legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, denounced Trump's plan as "lukewarm" and said approaches that don't directly take on the price-gouging of American drugmakers "just aren't going to work."
Shock of all shocks: It turns out that President Trump was not being honest when he said he was going to stop the prescription drug companies from “getting away with murder.” Another day. Another lie. https://t.co/uS9QbWc9EF
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 11, 2018
Rather than allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices—a proposal backed by 92 percent of Americans—Trump's plan vaguely promises to "encourage innovation" in the private sector while pursuing "reforms" to Medicare to promote "greater flexibility."
"There is nothing, absolutely nothing in here to lower drug prices for the 150 million Americans with employer coverage or the millions more with other private insurance," Topher Spiro, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote after reviewing the summary of Trump's plan.
Spiro also noted that the plan would do nothing to reduce the "sky-high" costs of specialty drugs.
While Trump's plan won't provide relief for hundreds of millions harmed by astronomical drug prices, Spiro added that it does fulfill "the biggest item on Big Pharma's wish list":
Trump is proposing to *increase* drug prices abroad, probably through trade deals. This is the biggest item on Big Pharma's wish list! How the heck is this going to lower drug prices in this country??? 4/
— Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) May 11, 2018
A Public Citizen report (pdf) released on Friday ahead of Trump's long-delayed drug policy unveil may provide some clues into why the president has decided to reward the U.S. pharmaceutical industry instead of taking the tough stance he promised on the campaign trail.
"We expect President Trump's upcoming speech on lowering drug prices to be rhetorically critical of pharmaceutical manufacturers and the supply chain, but he will not propose actions that actually threaten drugmakers' ability to set high prices for their product."
—Andrea Harris, Height Capital Markets
Titled "Big Pharma Swamps Trump," the report shows "the pharmaceutical industry spent $279 million on lobbying the Trump administration and Congress" in 2017—"a record amount."
"Solutions to Big Pharma's monopoly abuses are at hand, but they require a political will that we are unlikely to see from an administration in the grip of the drug corporations," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement.
Thanks to the enormous clout of drug companies have within the Trump administration and the GOP-controlled Congress, pharmaceutical industry analysts said openly ahead of Trump's speech on Friday that they aren't worried the president will do anything to harm the profits of drugmakers.
"We expect President Trump's upcoming speech on lowering drug prices to be rhetorically critical of pharmaceutical manufacturers and the supply chain, but he will not propose actions that actually threaten drugmakers' ability to set high prices for their product," Height Capital Markets analyst Andrea Harris said in an interview with MarketWatch on Friday.