After months of heated accusations and painstaking negotiations, the White House and the pharmaceutical industry neared agreement late last month on a plan to make good on President Trump’s longstanding promise to lower drug prices.
The drug companies would spend $150 billion to address out-of-pocket consumer costs and would even pick up the bulk of the co-payments that older Americans shoulder in Medicare’s prescription drug program.
Then the agreement collapsed. The breaking point, according to four people familiar with the discussions: Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, insisted the drug makers pay for $100 cash cards that would be mailed to seniors before November — “Trump Cards,” some in the industry called them.
Some of the drugmakers bridled at being party to what they feared would be seen as an 11th-hour political boost for Mr. Trump, the people familiar with the matter said.
White House officials insist they didn’t plan to emblazon the president’s name on the cards, which they envisioned sending to tens of millions of Americans to use for prescriptions. Mr. Trump, of course, has a long history of branding everything from skyscrapers to stimulus checks.
Regardless, one drug company executive said they worried about the optics of having the chief executives of the country’s leading pharmaceutical makers stand with the president in the Rose Garden as he hoisted an oversized card and gloated about helping a crucial bloc of voters.
“We could not agree to the administration’s plan to issue one-time savings cards right before a presidential election,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, the vice president of public affairs at PhRMA, the industry’s largest trade group. “One-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines.”
Big pharma got on Trump's bad side by not paying his hundreds of millions in shakedown fees, so now it's time for the consequences.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, would not comment specifically on the savings cards.
But he noted that Mr. Trump had held back on an executive order the industry fiercely opposed, which would tie some drug prices to the prices paid by other countries — called “most-favored nation” drug pricing. Now the president is poised to link the prices that Medicare pays for drugs administered in doctors’ offices to those paid even by social democracies in Europe.
President Trump is working to ensure American patients are no longer forced to pay outrageously higher drug prices than those in other countries,” Mr. Deere said. “President Trump signed four executive orders earlier this summer. However, he did not release the final executive order on ‘most-favored nation’ drug pricing, giving drug companies a month to come up with a counterproposal. Negotiations did not produce an acceptable alternative, so the president is moving forward.”
It appears, then, the industry will have to confront the executive order it hoped to avoid.
Last Sunday, Mr. Trump released the order, which calls for the establishment of pilot programs tying some Medicare drugs to prices abroad. They are unlikely to be established before the election, and the industry is almost sure to file suit in response.
Trump supporters will no doubt cheer this story, ecstatic that their God-Emperor is taking the hated drug companies to task for refusing to pay fealty to Dear Leader, and frankly it's the fact that drug companies have been taking in hundreds of billions in profits for decades that makes American health care the priciest on Earth.
There are no good guys in this particular fight, only tens of millions of Americans suffering.
But a Trump free to shake down any and every industry for hundreds of millions in in-kind payments to his campaign is a dictator and a mob boss, and we deserve better.