WASHINGTON — Donald Trump released a health care plan late Wednesday that includes common Republican ideas for replacing Obamacare but departs from conventional GOP policies in one major way: it would allow the reimportation of cheaper drugs from overseas.
It’s the second time that Trump, now the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has embraced an idea to bring down drug costs that’s associated more with Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders than with the party he’s trying to lead.
He has previously said that Medicare should be allowed to negotiate drug prices, which is also a centerpiece of the Clinton and Sanders plans to bring down drug prices. That idea doesn’t appear anywhere in the health care plan he released Wednesday.
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However, the last provision of his new seven-point plan is: “Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable, and cheaper products.”
“Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America,” the plan says. “Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe, and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.”
Drug reimportation isn’t exclusively a Democratic idea. It has support from some prominent Republicans, notably Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. But it’s not an idea that wins the votes of most Republican lawmakers, and it is bitterly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. It has failed repeatedly in Congress, most recently in 2012.
Still, Republican voters do show some support for the idea. In a STAT-Harvard poll last year, 39 percent of Republican voters said drug reimportation would be their top choice for dealing with expensive prescription drugs.
The idea adds a new layer of intrigue to Trump’s health care ideas, which already have raised questions among Republican policy experts because of his embrace of Medicare drug price negotiations.
Trump’s plan also calls for greater price transparency, especially among doctors and hospitals. “Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams, or any other medical-related procedure,” the plan states.
Most of Trump’s other health care ideas are consistent with plans other Republicans have proposed, including repealing Obamacare, allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines, letting people make greater use of tax-free health savings accounts, and turning Medicaid into block grants to the states. He would also let people deduct from their taxes the payments they make for their health insurance premiums.
Trump released his plan after weeks of criticism from his Republican rivals, who have accused him of being vague and not serious about policy.
At last week’s GOP debate, Marco Rubio was especially harsh, mocking Trump for talking about little more than the proposal to let health insurance be sold across state lines. “So, your only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your health care plan?” Rubio asked.
“You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition,” Trump responded.