Democrats pressed President Trump to deliver on his push to slash drug costs Tuesday, saying they’re still waiting for the “volunteer massive” drops in prices he hinted at two weeks ago.
Mr. Trump predicted the price cuts during a bill signing on May 30.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said her office immediately surveyed 10 drug companies and couldn’t find any that planned to decrease their prices. One indicated that prices may go up, she said.
“It’s been two weeks and there have been no decreases and an indication of an increase,” Ms. Warren, a potential 2020 presidential challenger, told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at the first Capitol Hill hearing on Mr. Trump’s drug-pricing plan.
Mr. Azar said pharmaceutical executives are working on ways to slash costs, without being treated unfairly under the Byzantine framework of middlemen and incentives that determine prices, though he was cut off in the back-and-forth with the Massachusetts lawmaker.
“There are actually several drug companies that are looking at substantial and material decreases of drug prices,” Mr. Azar told the Senate Health Committee.
Ms. Warren said she’s skeptical since Mr. Trump’s self-professed deadline arrives Wednesday.
The debate over prescription costs is unfolding in a pivotal mid-term year, with Democrats saying they agree with portions of Mr. Trump’s plan but that he failed to fulfill his 2016 promise to directly “bid” down prices under Medicare.
“He told crowds he would negotiate like crazy,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
Mr. Azar said Mr. Trump is carrying out his vow by expanding negotiation under Medicare’s drug benefit — Part D — and shifting doctor-delivered drugs under Medicare Part B, where no bargaining takes place, to Part D.
“It fulfills the president’s promise completely to bring negotiation and negotiate hard in Medicare,” Mr. Azar said.
Democrats said the more limited use of Medicare’s power is “not the way we heard it,” and that Mr. Trump’s decision not to defend Obamacare against a state-driven lawsuit could make it harder for Americans with preexisting medical conditions to insure their prescription drugs.
“This, Mr. Secretary, is like some kind of sick joke,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat, said.
Despite the acrimony, Democrats said they’ve sponsored bills that reflect specific ideas in the plan, such as forcing drug companies to disclose list prices in their TV ads or preventing companies from “game” the patent system to lock out generic competitors.
“I hope that you’ll push Senator [Mitch] McConnell to bring those up, as they’ve already been introduced and we can get some of those steps done,” Mrs. Murray said.
Mr. Azar agreed there is “significant bipartisan consensus” that should allow policymakers to check key items off Mr. Trump’s list.
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