Trump promises to lower drug prices, but resists action

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., accompanied by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2107, following their meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday struck a tone that attempted to unite, at least when it came to some policy issues. One issue, near to the hearts of many congressional Democrats, has been getting prescription drug prices under control, something that Trump held up as a major campaign issue.

“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States,” Trump said. “That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.”

To some of the Democratic members of Congress who had met with Trump to discuss ways to solve the problem, these remarks rang hollow.

“I was stunned by the complete and utter disconnect between his words and reality,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) said in a statement emailed to Yahoo Finance. “More than any other Member of Congress, I have tried over and over and over to work with him.”

Cummings, along with Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.) had an apparently successful and productive meeting at the White House last April, in which the two lawmakers outlined a draft bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate directly. In other words, the art of the deal.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance last spring, Welch described a magnanimous Trump as “knowledgeable,” and felt he had taken it seriously, especially given that the two lawmakers were proposing free-market moves such as importing prescription drugs from Canada and allowing negotiation, something that routinely happens in business.

“It would be like him needing a thousand mirrors and paying the same per unit cost,” said Welch. “He was animated about it.”

All Stetson and no cattle

After the positive meeting, Cummings said he sent three follow-up letters and received no reply. Since then, the only action by the administration has been a few small moves to lower costs for Medicare recipients, though not drug prices. As Carolyn Y. Johnson noted in the Washington Post, the Trump administration appears to have taken special care to avoid confronting the biggest player in the debate: drug companies.

Instead, his actions have gone in exactly the opposite direction — tapping a pharmaceutical executive to lead HHS and giving drug companies one of the biggest tax breaks in history despite their already record profits,” Cummings said. “These aren’t just empty promises, they are obvious falsehoods.”

In a press release, Welch noted that Trump “says he wants to bring down the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs, but has proposed no concrete plan to do so.”

Without majorities in either chamber of Congress, Democrats like Cummings and Welch are unable to proceed without the bully pulpit of a sympathetic president they had hoped for. Still, Cummings said he is ready at anytime to accept President Trump’s initiative, should it come as promised.

“I must keep up hope that the president will finally change course, and I stand ready to work with him or anyone else should that happen,” Cummings said.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: FinanceTips[at]oath[.com].

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