President Trump’s State of the Union Address contained a number of distortions, false claims and outright lies regarding drug pricing and access to medicines. Skyrocketing drug prices are a life and death issue for people with HIV in the U.S. and around the world. Here’s a side by side comparison of the facts versus what Trump said. Did we miss any lies? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
What Trump said:
“The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs — and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions. Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.”
Contrary to the President’s State of the Union Address, the list price of monopoly protected medicines continued to escalate in 2017-2019, with the costs of some of the newest medicines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The temporary, minor pause in inflating prices mid-2018 was a publicity stunt by Big Pharma and the President in what has been a relentless drive to maximize profits even if it means payers can’t pay and patients go without.
What Trump said:
“But we must do more. It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it. And we will stop it fast.”
The U.S. pays more than other countries for medicines because the President and other policymakers do less to restrain excessive pricing than any other country in the world. They obstruct prices negotiation efforts. They continue to pass laws and enter into trade agreements that strengthen, broaden, and lengthen monopolies on medicines. They don’t seek fair pricing returns on the public’s tax payer investments in pharmaceutical research and development. What’s wrong and unfair is that the President lets drug companies get away with deadly high prices while he pretends that other countries are doing something wrong by trying to tame unbearable prices.
Low and middle income countries can’t afford the bloated prices that drug companies demand and shame on the President for suggesting that they should. Those same countries can’t afford the trade agreements and trade threats of the U.S. and Big Pharma that seek to perpetuate and expand global monopolies on medicines. Drug companies prefer to make high profits off a few rich people even when the vast majority of poor people in other countries are denied access to the fruits of scientific progress.
What Trump said:
“I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients. Finally. We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.”
Disclosing prices won’t accomplish anything if the untrammeled power to charge whatever the market will bear for life-saving medicines is not addressed. The freeloading that the President should be concerned about is freeloading by drug companies that harvest innovation done in universities and at the National Institutes of Health and then monopolize the resulting products while they tweak their blockbusters to get new 20 year monopolies for minor tweaks.
About the author: Brook Baker is a senior policy analyst for Health GAP (Global Access Project) and is actively engaged in campaigns for universal access to treatment, prevention, and care for people living with HIV/AIDS, especially expanded and improved medical treatment. He is also a professor of law at Northeastern University and an honorary research fellow at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban, South Africa.