ASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday broadly pledged to encourage more competition to drive down drug prices and vowed to oppose any measure that would make it difficult for smaller drug companies to enter the market.
Trump, speaking from the White House before a meeting with pharmaceutical executives, also said he would streamline and therefore accelerate the drug approval process.
“So when you have a drug, you can actually get it approved instead of waiting for many, many years,” Trump said.
He nonetheless kept the pressure on drug makers, saying that he must bring down prices for Medicare and Medicaid. He said increased “competition and bidding wars” would lower costs for the programs.
“We have to get prices down for a lot of reasons. We have no choice,” Trump said. While the industry has delivered breakthrough cures, he continued, “the pricing has been astronomical.”
His pledges, which will need to be fleshed out, would likely require work from the Food and Drug Administration. Trump also said Tuesday that he would soon appoint a commissioner to lead the agency.
Trump and drug makers have been on a collision course since the campaign. In a press conference earlier this month, the president accused the industry of “getting away with murder” and pledged to change the way the federal government pays for prescription drugs. He has in recent days called congressional Democrats, who are usually more hawkish than Republicans on drug pricing, to discuss the issue, putting drug makers further on edge.
The industry, for its part, has rolled out an advertising campaign backed by tens of millions of dollars to burnish its public image. Industry officials described Tuesday’s meeting with Trump as a chance to get in the door with the new president after his incendiary comments.
If Trump wanted to take the delegation to task, he’d have plenty of ammunition.
Eli Lilly has raised the price of insulin more than tenfold since 2001 and is now facing a class-action lawsuit and threats of a congressional investigation.
Amgen has repeatedly raised the price of Enbrel, a blockbuster anti-inflammatory treatment that has been on the market for nearly 20 years. The price of J&J’s competing Remicade rose by 63 percent between 2011 and 2016.
Since 2010, Merck has raised its drug prices by more than 9 percent on average, and Novartis has increased the price of the cancer drug Gleevec from $26,400 in 2001 to more than $120,000 this year.
As they introduced themselves at the meeting, the company executives made note of the manufacturing they do in the United States and the jobs they plan to add in the coming months. Steve Ubl, president and CEO of the industry’s main lobbying group, said drug makers looked forward to discussing “reducing regulations and lowering tax rates” with Trump, in order to foster innovation.
Trump, in his opening remarks, also touched on two other issues: pushing companies to do more manufacturing in the United States and particularly focusing on getting drugs more quickly to patients with terminal illnesses. Congressional Republicans have introduced a so-called “right-to-try” bill and many experts in Washington believe Trump’s FDA could go along with such a proposal.