Trump health secretary pushes back against Medicare drug negotiation

Trump health secretary pushes back against Medicare drug negotiation

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE’s health secretary pushed back Monday at critics who said Trump’s drug pricing plan moved away from his campaign pledge of having Medicare negotiate drug prices.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar dismissed the idea — backed by many Democrats — that Medicare can save money by negotiating directly with drug companies.

“The only way that direct negotiation saves money is by doing something this administration does not believe in: denying access to certain medicines for all Medicare beneficiaries, or setting prices for drugs by government fiat,” Azar said in a speech at HHS headquarters.

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Still, Azar hinted that Trump has not completely abandoned the idea.

“The idea of direct negotiation in Medicare has come up” during his meetings with the president, Azar said, but they determined the approach first announced by President Trump on Friday was the “smart, effective way.”

In remarks to reporters following the speech, Azar said Trump wants Medicare to negotiate more effectively, “rather than trite, gimmicky, political proposals.”

Instead of allowing direct negotiation, Azar said Trump’s plan would “bring negotiation where it doesn’t exist” by merging drugs in Part B, Medicare’s program for doctor-prescribed drugs, with the Part D prescription drug benefit.

In an interview with "The Hugh Hewitt Show" on Monday morning, Azar suggested that moving Part B drugs into the Part D program could require legislation. But Azar told reporters later he won’t need congressional approval for such a sweeping change to the system, so long as it’s conducted as a demonstration project first.

Former President Obama proposed reforms to Medicare Part B drug payments in 2016, but eventually scrapped the plan in the face of fierce resistance from doctors and drug companies.