Health care reform has been a big part of the election of 2016. While the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) has taken center stage, many have wondered what may happen to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries under a Trump presidency. Wednesday, President-elect Trump made the answer quite clear — no more price gouging.
In the last year, we have all heard about the significant price hikes of the Epi Pen made by Mylan pharmaceuticals. Mylan and CEO Heather Bresch are just one example of price gouging, price fixing and collusion among pharmaceutical companies.
Many other drugs are also increasing in cost at alarming rates, without any real plausible explaination. Most concerning is the fact that while consumers have seen a 500 percent increase in the cost of the Epi Pen, Ms Bresch has seen a nearly 700 percent increase in her own salary over the last few years.
Mylan is definitely not alone in its greed. Last year the CEO of Turing, Martin Shkreli increased the price of an important (and relatively cheap) drug in the treatment of HIV related illness nearly 5000 percent.
Countless other cases of inflated drug prices have come to light in recent months.
In Europe, a precedent has been set when in late 2016 drug maker Pfizer was fined a record 85 million pounds by the National Health Service for unfairly raising the price of an old epilepsy drug by 2,400 percent.
It is clear that price gouging is not limited to newly developed or expensive biologic/designer drugs–even the price of insulin (which has been around for decades) has gone up nearly 300 percent.
Insulin and other medicines like it are drugs that are used to treat common diseases (like diabetes) that many patients NEED daily just in order to LIVE.
Are we now going to allow some in the pharmaceutical industry to maximize their profits at the expense of the health of children with Type I diabetes?
Wednesday, President-elect Trump took dead aim at the pharmaceutical industry in his noon press conference. He made it clear that he will take steps to regulate the pharmaceutical industry because “they are getting away with murder”.
Mr. Trump stated that he will seek to immediately allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices—no longer will government programs be forced to pay whatever pharmaceutical companies ask.
He suggested that open bidding by suppliers to provide drugs for Medicare would be an important way to manage cost and potentially save billions of healthcare dollars.
Mr. Trump noted that the pharmaceutical lobby has been a dominant force in Washington and has been instrumental in keeping prices high. It appears that the President-elect will take quick steps to address the growing national crisis of drug costs.
Currently the U.S. pays far more for drugs than any other developed nation. We bear the costs of research and development for the rest of the world. While it is critical to innovation that we reward new developments, we must create limits to how much (and for how long) drug makers can charge exorbitant prices.
Its Time that We Hold Pharmaceutical Executives Accountable
As a physician and patient advocate, one of the biggest barriers to treatment in my practice is the cost of therapy.
Patients want to get well and want to do what is needed to stay healthy. However, many simply cannot afford to purchase their medications—even with assistance programs.
Pharmaceutical companies MUST do better and I believe that President Trump will work to make sure that they provide quality products at AFFORDABLE prices in the future.
Congress MUST look at amending patent protection laws and must also review the rules and regulations concerning the production and cost of generic medications.
We must allow Americans to purchase drugs from reputable pharmacies from Canada and other locations in order to lower costs at home.
Most importantly we must ensure that our government does not overpay for common, low cost drugs simply to line the pockets of pharmaceutical executives and shareholders.
Initially following the election, drug stocks soared as investors anticipated less regulation and more free market competition in this space.
Wednesday, things retreated immediately following his comments with the health sector already down several percentage points. Mylan and Bristol Myers Squibb immediately dropped nearly 4 percent while others such as Pfizer and and Allergan dropped 3 percent.
It is my hope that leaders in the pharmaceutical world will begin to work with Mr. Trump and Congress to find better and most cost effective ways to lower the cost of needed and life saving prescription drugs.
It appears that with the signing of the 21st Century Cures Act in December, the process for getting drugs approved by the FDA will become much more streamlined and less costly—providing a cost reduction to the pharmaceutical and device industries that should be passed along to patients.
I believe that in his press conference Wednesday, President-elect Trump showed that he is going to stand up for patients and work to reduce the cost of health care in the U.S.
While drug prices are just one aspect of a very complex system, I think that it is a great place to start.
Finally, my patients may be able to afford their pills.
Dr. Kevin Campbell is an assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, University of North Carolina and President, K-Roc Consulting LLC.