If Drug Companies Are ‘Getting Away With Murder,’ Trump May Grant Them a Pardon

It wasn’t too long ago that President Trump said drug makers are “getting away with murder.” But it sure sounds like he’s about to grant them a presidential pardon.

For months, Trump has kept these companies off balance with remarks that suggest he’s willing to consider ideas they find abhorrent in an effort to rein in drug prices. Now, though, his team is reportedly considering moves that would do little to address the problem — and would instead please the pharmaceutical industry […]

First up is a proposal to strengthen overseas monopoly rights for drug makers. Specifically, the Trump team would extend patents for drugs in foreign countries. The idea is to stop the widespread practice of overseas customers paying a lot less than Americans for the same brand-name medicines, which Trump has tarred as “global freeloading.”

“There is zero evidence that raising drug prices in foreign countries lowers them here,” said Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International, an advocacy group that studies patents and access to medicines.

Another idea the Trump team is eyeing is value-based pricing, which generally refers to deals in which drug makers offer extra discounts to health plans if their medicines don’t work well for certain patients. But as Kaiser Health News noted, it’s unclear who would audit drug effectiveness, how this would be evaluated, or who would get the rebates. As one Wall Street analyst noted, the notion may prove to be a smokescreen. […]

The draft document for an executive order also cribs from a policy paper from the pharmaceutical industry trade group, which proposed that regulators use less rigorous clinical trial standards to speed drug approvals, according to Kaiser Health News. This may save drug makers R&D costs, but once again, fails to guarantee lower prices.

In recent years, for instance, the Food and Drug Administration approved some cancer drugs based on showings that they reduced tumor size in the short term; the makers didn’t have to prove that patients on the drugs actually lived longer, which requires more time-consuming studies. This drop in approval standards may have reduced R&D costs, but prices for cancer drugs “increased dramatically,” explained Diana Zuckerman, who heads the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit think tank.

Other ideas will likely still come and go. But what is also troubling is the draft is being assembled with input from people with ties to the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, the working group is led by a former Gilead Sciences lobbyist who is now at the White House Office of Management and Budget. And there is no sign that independent patient advocacy groups are involved. […]

If the Trump team wants to lower drug prices, they should confront the problem directly and seek specific steps that can have a direct impact on prices.

Right now, it’s hard to see how this effort will do anything but drain American wallets.

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