PhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move

PhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move
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The head of the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group said Wednesday that he remains “hopeful” the Trump administration will back down on its controversial proposal to lower drug prices.

Steve Ubl, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told reporters he is “heartened” by a “broad coalition of folks that have raised concerns about this model, not only us.”

His remarks were in response to a question about how he expected to get President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to reconsider the proposal.

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“I remain hopeful that the secretary is open to better alternatives and, again, I think we want to be responsive to their concerns,” Ubl added.

Trump has railed against drug companies for their prices, and the plan he announced in October was his most aggressive action yet, proposing to lower certain drug prices in Medicare by linking the prices to those in other wealthy countries.

The pharmaceutical industry is fighting back hard against the proposal.

Some Republican lawmakers have also broken with the Trump administration, given that the plan goes far beyond traditional GOP proposals on drug pricing. Some Democrats have given the idea cautious praise while saying more needs to be done.

Ubl said PhRMA has been meeting with the administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “routinely” in an effort to “educate policymakers about our concerns.”

He said lawmakers “can engage with the administration as they often do to express their views; ultimately they could choose to legislate on the subject.”

Legislation at this point is “premature,” he said, given that “most members of Congress want to see what the administration ultimately does after receiving comments.”

Illustrating the tension, now-former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThe FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate Orrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab MORE (R-Utah) discussed with other GOP lawmakers in December the possibility of organizing a letter to the administration to voice concerns, but administration officials lobbied GOP lawmakers to hold off on publicly criticizing the proposal, given that it remains in the early stages and is being refined.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin MORE (R-Iowa) told reporters last week he would withhold judgment until the administration responds to comments on the proposal, although he expressed concerns.

I can say initially, I don’t want foreign countries setting our drug prices,” Grassley said. “Now what can [Azar] do to modify that so that principle's not violated?”

When asked what “better alternatives” PhRMA is proposing, Ubl said he did not want to get into specifics, but mentioned paying for drugs based on how well they work as one idea, something PhRMA has previously supported.

“There may be other ideas as the process unfolds,” he said, adding that the industry wants to be “constructive.”

PhRMA warned that the proposal would hinder research and development efforts and harm access to drugs, arguing that patients often have to wait longer in other countries for drugs to treat diseases like cancer.

Backers of the proposal dismiss those arguments, saying drug companies are simply worried about getting less money.

Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for Azar, hit back at the pharmaceutical industry after Ubl's comments on Wednesday. 

“Pharmaceutical companies have yet to offer a justification for charging American patients more—nor have they offered to lower their prices," she wrote in an email. "This issue could be resolved tomorrow if they chose to give similar discounts to American patients that they voluntarily give to foreign countries."

She said the idea the proposal would harm innovation is "blatantly false," arguing the losses to drug companies would be less than one percent of their current research and development budgets. 

Azar himself said in October when announcing the proposal that the system has to change. Drug companies currently “make up any price they want and we pay,” he said.

“That is not tenable,” he said then. “That has to change.”

This story was updated at 2:51 p.m.