Cacophony on drug pricing

Among those who want to lower drug prices, there’s cacophony, not consensus

By Erin Mershon
STAT, January 26, 2018

Of all his campaign promises, President Trump’s vow to bring down drug prices was perhaps the most popular.

An assortment of interest groups spoke out loudly and passionately on the need for action, from hospitals to doctors to insurers to generic drug makers to patients themselves.

Instead, congressional efforts to lower drug prices are at a total standstill. In interviews with STAT, lobbyists, lawmakers, and congressional staffers, Republicans and Democrats alike, said the most powerful health industry players conspicuously disagree about exactly how to move forward. Every group pushes its own priorities and strategies — a cacophony that makes it unlikely that crushing drug prices will change any time soon.

The disarray was on full display at a recent congressional hearing, when representatives from nearly every major trade group with any stake in the country’s drug prices — AMA, AHIP, and AHA included — spent almost an hour and a half testifying without more than a cursory discussion of how Congress could fix the problem. When they finally did talk solutions, outside of buzzy phrases like “increase transparency,” almost none of their answers matched.

So why can’t the broader health care industry agree on how to make drugs more affordable? Here are five factors.

1. Health care lobbyists are stuck playing defense.

2. Congress isn’t jumping to act.

3. Each industry has very different priorities, even when they do agree.

4. All the major players have a stake in the status quo.

5. There’s no silver bullet.


Pharma gets a seat at the table at private dinner with Trump at Davos

By Rebecca Robbins
STAT, January 25, 2018

The leaders of drug makers Novartis and Bayer joined President Trump on Thursday evening at a private dinner in Davos, the snowy Swiss resort that’s playing host this week to a gathering of elites from around the globe.

Vas Narasimhan, who officially becomes CEO of Novartis (NVS) next week, and Bayer (BAYN) CEO Werner Baumann were among the 15 European business executives invited to the event. The White House’s goal for the evening: to encourage the companies to make investments in the U.S. and to encourage others to join them, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told reporters earlier this week.

Trump is the first sitting president in two decades to attend the annual four-day meeting of the World Economic Forum, which draws a who’s-who list of politicians, one-percenters, and pharmaceutical royalty. Trump is scheduled Friday to deliver a speech, in which he’s expected to tout the tax cuts introduced by the new tax law and make the case for trade policies more favorable to U.S. interests.

A year ago, then-President-elect Trump famously declared that drug companies are “getting away with murder” when it comes to pricing their drugs, but the administration has yet to take any significant policy steps to drive prices down.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

Virtually everyone agrees that drug costs are too high, but the private sector's response has been to attempt to reshuffle the drug money wherein each stakeholder is trying to get a larger share, while collectively they are doing nothing of significance to control our global drug costs. When the private sector is out of control, it is time for the government to step in.

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised repeatedly that he would bring down drug prices. But after a year in office, he has done nothing, until now. And what is he doing? He is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That is a meeting about power players moving money around, not about social policy to benefit the people. He hosted a private dinner that included leaders in the pharmaceutical industry - an industry that he said was "getting away with murder." That certainly is not an environment wherein discussions would take place on strategies to lower the cost of drugs for the benefit of patients.

In her article, STAT Correspondent Erin Mershon lists five reasons why the broader health care industry is unable to reach agreement on making drugs more affordable. A common thread is that each sector of the broader industry is primarily concerned about its own priorities and strategies, and that has resulted in cacophony without progress.

But Mershon's fifth point - that there is no silver bullet - is an observation that might be expected with a story background exemplified by the meeting in Davos. Instead of looking for silver bullets that the billionaires can share, we should be looking for solutions to the drug cost problems that patients face.

Ah, but there is a golden bullet that would work - a well designed single payer national health program with bulk purchasing and prices negotiated by our own public stewards.

Let's just hope that when President Trump returns home he doesn't continue his discussions with the industry stakeholders over dinner at Mar-a-Lago. That's not the environment we need right now. People are dying for lack of affordability of drugs that reduce suffering and save lives.

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