Even though President Trump ran on lowering prescription drug price increases in 2016, price hikes are continuing full steam ahead.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that more than 250 different prescription drugs would see a price increase this year. Some of the largest price hikes come from just one company — Allergan Plc — which is raising the prices of over 50 different prescription drugs, with half of those prices going up by nearly 10 percent. AbbVie Inc, which makes rheumatoid arthritis medication Humira, increased the price of the drug by more than six percent, even though the company made approximately $20 billion last year off that drug alone, according to Reuters.
The 2019 price hikes are essentially a continuation of last year’s trend of drug price increases. As Grit Post previously reported, there were 96 new increases for every decrease in prescription drug prices, with 4,412 hikes and just 46 cuts. And there was actually a 16-1 ratio of increases to decreases in drug prices in the two months that followed Trump’s promise to cut prescription drug prices.
These new price hikes fly in the face of what President Trump promised on the campaign trail and in his earliest days in the White House, when he said the government would negotiate for lower drug prices for seniors on Medicare. He abandoned that promise in May of 2018 in favor of a more broad promise to rein in drug prices However, as former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote on his blog, that new plan does little else but ask other countries to simply allow drug companies to charge whatever they want.
Reich pointed out several ways the Trump administration could meaningfully lower drug prices based on the examples of other countries where drug prices are far lower, none of which are currently being explored. Reich mentioned that most of the price of a drug is to account for the money pharmaceutical companies spend on lobbying, litigating, advertising, and marketing, and that either Trump or the Department of Health and Human Services (currently headed by a former pharma lobbyist) could take action to stop drug companies from passing those costs onto their customers.
Another tactic used by U.S. drug companies has been to sue generics to prevent them from selling their cheaper versions, then settle the cases by paying the generics to delay introducing those cheaper versions.
Such “pay-for-delay” agreements are illegal in other nations, but antitrust enforcement hasn’t laid a finger on them in America – and Trump doesn’t mention them although they cost Americans an estimated $3.5 billion a year.
Even after their patents have expired, U.S. drug companies continue to aggressively advertise their brands so patients will ask their doctors for them instead of the generic versions. Many doctors comply.
Other nations don’t allow direct advertising of prescription drugs – another reason why prices are lower there and higher here. Trump’s plan is silent on this, too. (Trump suggests drug advertisers should be required to post the prices of their drugs, which they’re already expert at obscuring.)
In the 2018 midterm election, healthcare was the top issue that motivated voters to show up at the polls. And according to CNBC, healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP has increased from five percent to more than 18 percent. With the 116 Congress officially underway, Trump will likely be under even greater pressure to take action on drug prices from the new Democratic House majority.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.