President Trump asserted late Friday that drug prices declined for the first time in nearly 50 years, implying in a tweet that his administration’s efforts to speed generic drugs to market were responsible for that historic feat.
But in the context of America’s prescription drug market, the statement is both a non sequitur and demonstrably false.
Drug prices declined in 2018, the first time in nearly half a century. During the first 19 months of my Administration, Americans saved $26 Billion on prescription drugs. Our policies to get cheaper generic drugs to market are working!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
A recent analysis of brand-name drugs by the Associated Press found 96 price increases for every price cut in the first seven months of 2018. At the start of last year, drug makers hiked prices on 1,800 medicines by a median of 9.1 percent, and many continued to increase prices throughout the year.
Trump’s tweet comes just days after the president summoned his top domestic policy advisers, including health secretary Alex Azar, to the White House to discuss the slate of drug price hikes that came Jan. 1, as an HHS spokeswoman confirmed to STAT. Last week, Trump blasted pharmaceutical companies for those increases, writing on Twitter “drug makers are not living up to their commitments.”
Azar, who has been vocally defending his agency’s work to lower drug prices in television appearances and on Twitter this month, tweeted last week that price increases so far this year are smaller and fewer than they were in 2018. On Jan. 1, drug markers bumped up prices of 1,026 drugs by a median of 6 percent.
Thanks to the leadership of @POTUS, in 2018 drug companies announced smaller and fewer drug price increases. Initial data show that price increases effective Jan. 1, 2019 are smaller and fewer than those effective Jan. 1, 2018.
— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) January 3, 2019
But that has nothing to do with the question of whether prices actually fell in 2018, which they did not. Azar retweeted Trump’s claim of an historic price drop in 2018, but tacked on a comment saying, “President Trump has done more to address high drug prices than any President in history. More to come!”
To support his claim of a price drop, Trump asserted that Americans saved $26 billion on prescription drugs during the first 19 months of his administration. The $26 billion figure comes from an October report published by the White House Council of Economic Advisors, which stated in part: “We find that growth in relative drug prices has slowed since January 2017, that generic drugs are being approved at a particularly rapid pace, and that savings from new generic entrants totaled about $26 billion as of July 2018.”
The report argued that “relative growth” in drug prices has slowed — not that there has been a broad-based decline in prices. It is true that Trump’s FDA has approved a record number of generic drugs, after instituting policies to speed such drugs to market.
That is, indeed, a historic feat. But it is a far cry from reducing actual prices. Prices have dropped in discreet cases, but increases remain far more common. It remains to be seen whether Trump and congressional Democrats — now locked in a stalemate that shutdown the government — will be able to come together to take more forcible actions on drug prices this year.
Lev Facher contributed reporting.