Deck of “Trump Cards” Collapses Pharma Deal

21.09.2020 - After a roller coaster ride entailing months of on again-off again negotiations with US president Donald Trump over drug prices, the country’s pharmaceutical industry is licking its wounds and gearing up for a fight.

In late August, the White House and PhRMA, the industry’s largest trade group, appeared close to signing an agreement that would allow the president to follow up on a promise to bring drug prices down and the industry to avoid a feared executive order introducing price controls for state-sponsored healthcare programs.

The rollercoaster ran off the rails over a last-minute White House ploy that might have suggested to voters drugmakers were promoting Trump’s re-election. The crash was followed by the threatened executive order, which calls for the establishment of pilot programs that would tie some drugs prescribed under Medicare, the healthcare program for Americans over 65 years of age, to prices in Europe or Canada.

Commentators said, however, that the order is unlikely to be put in place before the Nov. 3 election, and that the industry is almost sure to file a lawsuit in response.

The mega deal would have seen drugmakers agree to significant concessions to avert price controls. The industry appeared close to spending $150 billion to address out-of-pocket consumer drug costs and even cover the bulk of the copayments required by Medicare.

Commenting on why the talks broke down, Priscilla VanderVeer, vice president of public affairs at PhRMA, said drugmakers “could not agree to the administration’s plan to issue one-time savings cards right before a presidential election. One-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines.”

The cards in question were $100 vouchers paid for by the industry that would have been mailed to the tens of millions of Medicare recipients before the election. The scrip, which some euphemistically called “Trump Cards,” was to be redeemed for prescription drugs.

White House officials told US media there were no plans to print Trump’s name on the cards, as on the Coronavirus stimulus checks mailed to all US citizens in April.  But pharma executives were said to fear the optics of standing next to the president as he “hoisted up an oversized card and gloated” about helping a crucial bloc of voters.

Trump later accused unnamed company CEOs of torpedoing the deal by sowing discord over financing. “It is unacceptable,” he said, “that Americans pay more for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same places. Other countries’ governments regulate drug prices by negotiating with drug manufacturers to secure bargain prices, leaving Americans to make up the difference — effectively subsidizing innovation and lower-cost drugs for the rest of the world.”

Pharma industry sources speaking to the New York Times, said they found it “mystifying” that the administration “would play political hardball with some of the same private-sector companies that Mr. Trump is pressuring to deliver a coronavirus vaccine before the election.”

Over the summer, the president’s re-election campaign repeatedly slammed the “greedy drug companies,” asserting that “they are advertising against me because lower prices mean less profit.”


Author: Dede Willilams, Freelance Journalist