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Nocturnal Reflections on Trump’s Blurry Overtures on Drug Prices

Night owl drug prices

Forcing price transparency in drug ads, proposing international reference pricing for Medicare Part B, and even drug importation can all be found in President Trump’s lunchbox of policy ideas to take on the drug companies, who are “getting away with murder.”

Huh, am I dreaming?

Is Donald Trump really a Republican? Is former Eli Lilly President Alex Azar, now HHS Secretary, really advocating such radical ideas, such as importation, against his pharma friends? Scott Gottlieb, our free-market fanatic FDA Commissioner is crusading against high drug prices, too: winner of Patients for Affordable Drugs Price Fighting Hero Award!

Pinch me. Am I awake?

I am awake and I’m not fooled by this subtle, probably well planned out public relations defense against the progressive and populist tide, which includes Republicans and Democrats. Forget importation this week: 92% of Republican and 96% of Democratic voters support ending the ban on Medicare negotiating drug prices. Finally, the country is united!

Ending the ban on Medicare price negotiations could bring down prices for drugs in all of Medicare.

But Alex Azar’s proposal to reduce drug prices in Medicare is only for Part B, half the country, and on a small group of medications. Forcing drug companies to list prices on TV drugs ads does not bring those prices down. And the importation idea is good, but super limited, and it’s still just talk!

Jamie Love from Knowledge Ecology International’s comment on Trump’s Medicare Part B proposal is caustic yet correct in describing the Trump administration’s policy and general approach:

“If one was to design a program that appeared to address the need to curb high prices for drugs, without doing much in Trump’s first term, and promising nothing after 2025, it might look like the proposal.”

On the other hand—and this is where compromise begins to seep in and you can’t help but know it’s because Trump is no normal Republican—the former President of Eli Lilly USA, Alex Azar, is advocating for forcing price reductions on drugs in Medicare Part B and importing foreign versions of lower-cost medications for single source drugs; and working in an administration giving voice to drug price transparency. Who would have thought that possible two years ago?

Not me. Am I dreaming?

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RightsCon Panel Defends Internet Access to Affordable Medication

RightsCon: Defending consumer rights to affordable medication on the Internet (left to right: Gabriel Levitt, Jeremy Malcom, Andrew Goldman, Burcu Kilic, Paul Zickler)

Defending consumer rights to affordable medication on the Internet (left to right: Gabriel Levitt, Jeremy Malcom, Andrew Goldman, Burcu Kilic, Paul Zickler)

Access to medicines and Internet rights advocates came together yesterday for a panel at the RightsCon conference in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss the importance of, and threats to, online access to safe and affordable medication. In my capacities as president of PharmacyChecker.com and founder of Prescription Justice, I submitted the concept for this panel to RightsCon, a conference that focuses on issues relating to human rights and the Internet, such as freedom of expression, curbing violent extremism, and privacy and data protection.

The panel included Jeremy Malcolm, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Andrew Goldman, Knowledge Ecology International; Burcu Kilic, Public Citizen; Paul Zickler, Canadian International Pharmacy Association, and Gabriel Levitt. We came together to push back against the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to control what is and is not permissible on the Internet when it comes to medication sales and the importation of prescription drugs for personal use.

My presentation’s focus was on the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to afford medication and how the Internet provides them with access to lower cost medication imported for personal use. I will follow-up with a more detailed report on the panel discussions and a workshop that followed, where we drafted a Statement of Principles for the online sale of medication, one inspired by the belief that access to affordable medications is an essential component to the fundamental human right to health.

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