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lower drug prices other countriesYesterday, with great public relations fanfare, a new report from President Trump’s HHS was released showing that drug prices in other countries are often half the price they are in America. Who would have known? Well, for starters, the millions of Americans who are forced to shop internationally in order to afford their meds. Prices in other countries are actually much less than half for many drugs, but this report only looked at drugs in Medicare Part B, ones administered in a clinical setting by a healthcare provider – not picked up at the pharmacy.

Trump’s rhetoric on drug prices is one of the few unifying issues in our deeply-divided country. Trump has stated on several occasions that the “drug companies are getting away with murder.” Murder. Now, while his administration hasn’t really done much at all on drug prices, the latest report puts it out there loud and clear: drug prices are insanely lower in other rich countries than here in the United States.

America First…Second…Last?

President Trump likes to put this in the “America First” narrative to make a point that foreign governments with really low drug prices are “freeloading” off Americans. I believe countries have the right to protect their citizens’ access to affordable medicine, and I don’t share the president’s freeloading charge. Although he may be employing Trumpian rhetoric, it looks like he’s going to use some of those other countries’ tactics in order to lower prices here at home.

International Reference Pricing

Trump’s new plan relies on foreign prices to set lower prices based on reference pricing.

What’s that?

Take a basket of 16 countries; get an average price; set the U.S. price at 126% of that average and that’s the price. In other words: drug price controls, which are apparently what Trump is now calling for. However (and it’s a big however), it would only apply to drugs in Medicare Part B, which are super expensive drugs administered in a doctor’s office or hospital, not purchased at the pharmacy.

What’s actually happening?

I don’t believe we’ve found the solution, but it’s wickedly rocking the boat. I don’t think it can happen through an executive decision, but it sounds tough. It might be part of an ongoing dog-and-pony show in which Alex Azar, formerly Big Pharma President of Eli Lilly, shouts that he’s taking on his old buddies with his new boss, Trump. Just listen to the mouth of piece of Big Pharma, Stephen J. Ubl, head of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, as quoted in the NYT:

“The administration is imposing foreign price controls from countries with socialized health care systems that deny their citizens access and discourage innovation.”

Then again, literally as I’m finishing this blog post, I’ve learned from hedge fund billionaire, turned drug price activist, John Arnold, that Azar has said this WILL happen. Bring it on, Alex.

The Patient Advocate Wrap

This report is incredible because it educates the American people that other countries are paying far less for the exact same medication…That begs the question: why doesn’t President Trump stick to his campaign’s position to allow importation of lower-cost medicines? If he did, it would be one campaign promise that all Americans would get behind. International reference pricing in Parts B & D or importation, or both!

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