When it comes to Medicare's ability to negotiate the price of prescription medicines, party lines are clearly marked.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both proposed that the government health-care system for the elderly, among the largest purchasers of prescription drugs, should have that power. Republicans — and the drug industry — have dismissed the suggestion as leading to price controls that would hamper innovation.
So comments from GOP front-runner Donald Trump on Monday night come as a surprise. He reportedly supports the idea that Medicare should negotiate the price of prescription drugs, claiming it would save $300 billion annually, according to news reports citing The Associated Press.
This would be a big deal. Our current system forbids Medicare from negotiating drug prices. Clinton's focus on the issue in September, in the form of a tweet about price gouging, took 5 percent off biotech stocks in one morning. And though Republican candidates, like Sen. Marco Rubio, have focused on drug prices before, they haven't called for that provision.
"I think the market will pay careful attention to the [Republican] response, maybe more so than Hillary," Robert W. Baird analyst Brian Skorney wrote in an email. "If the Republicans start favoring price control, it will be a big problem for the sector."
Trump's actual comments, though, while clearly critical of the drug industry, don't explicitly state he would aim to give Medicare power of negotiation.
"They say like $300 billion could be saved if we bid them out," Trump told an audience in Farmington, New Hampshire Monday night. "We don't do it. Why? Because of the drug companies, folks, because of the drug companies."