Health and Science

President Trump wants to go 'much further' to attack high drug prices, HHS secretary says

Key Points
  • President Trump has repeatedly attacked drug companies for "getting away with murder" on prices.
  • Trump wants to do more to address the issue, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tells the World Health Care Congress.
  • He says HHS is working with Trump to create a comprehensive strategy to address rising drug prices.
United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar.
Sebastián Vivallo Oñate | Agencia Makro | Getty Images

President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly attacked pharmaceutical companies for "getting away with murder," wants to do more to address drug prices, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday.

HHS is working with Trump to create a comprehensive strategy to address issues that are causing ever-increasing drug prices, Azar said in a speech at the World Health Care Congress. The agency will build on proposals laid out in Trump's budget proposal for 2019, he said.

"But I can assure you the president wants to go further. Much further. Action is desperately needed," Azar said. "There's little access for a sick patient between a miracle cure that hasn't been discovered and one that is too expensive to use."

Trump criticism of drug prices includes chastising foreign countries for setting price controls on medication and "freeloading" on American innovation.

Trump's drug pricing plan not so bad for pharma

The Trump administration plans to address high list prices and rising out-of-pocket costs for consumers, said Azar, a former executive at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. He said it's possible to lower prices without inhibiting research and development.

"I believe we can lower the cost of medicine while still promoting research that will transform the future of health care going forward," Azar said. "Doing both is the only way forward."

The administration will also address the issue of seniors in government programs overpaying for drugs due to lack of negotiating of negotiating tools, Azar said. He has rejected the idea of allowing Medicare to directly work with manufacturers on prices.

However, the administration's 2019 budget called for some changes. That includes moving some costly drugs from Medicare Part B to Medicare Part D, where private insurers who administer plans can negotiate with manufacturers.

Azar said the administration wants to tackle the problem of foreign governments "freeriding" on American investment and innovation. The White House released a white paper in February calling for a way to get foreign countries to pay more for drugs.

Trump is expected to address drug prices in a speech next week.

He's given his administration "a very strong mandate" to do something about fixing the health-care system, Azar said.

"The time has simply come for this to happen. The status quo just cannot hold," Azar said. "The way we do business in American health care, from insurance to (information technology) to drug pricing to patient billing, has got to change."