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As drug prices climb, Trump's hollow rhetoric comes back to haunt him

As a rule, it's difficult to take Trump's rhetoric seriously on any subject, but his comments about drug prices are especially meaningless.
A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York
A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009.

In late May, Donald Trump told Americans about an imminent drop in the cost of prescription medication, which the president said would be the result of his administration's successful efforts.

"You're going to have some big news," he declared with pride. "I think we're going to have some of the big drug companies in two weeks, and they're going to announce -- because of what we did -- they're going to announce voluntary massive drops in prices.... That's going to be a fantastic thing."

As we recently discussed, many of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies had absolutely no idea what Trump was talking about, but the White House made no effort to walk back the president's vow.

And that was probably a mistake. As Axios put it this morning, "So much for voluntary drops in drug prices."

Many pharmaceutical companies this week trotted out fresh price increases on existing products, a common mid-year occurrence that has not abated despite the Trump administration's assertions that prices are coming down.Pfizer raised list prices on more than 100 drugs as of July 1, David Crow of the Financial Times scooped. Seattle Genetics and Sanofi also instituted mid-year hikes on some products, Meg Tirrell of CNBC reported. Several other companies followed suit with large and small increases, others in the industry tell Axios.As we've reported over and over again, the pharmaceutical industry's practices have not changed one iota even with the administration's pricing blueprint, and drug companies still have every incentive to raise prices.

Politico had a related piece last week, noting that the industry has generally ignored Trump's call.

In response to reports like these, Trump tweeted this afternoon, "Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason. They are merely taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves, while at the same time giving bargain basement prices to other countries in Europe & elsewhere. We will respond!"

The missive was enough to push Pfizer's stock price lower, but let's not play games: the likelihood of the White House actually "responding" is poor.

In case anyone’s forgotten, one of the few key areas on which Trump broke with Republican Party orthodoxy in 2016 was lowering prices on prescription drugs. In fact, he complained bitterly shortly before taking office about the pharmaceutical industry’s powerful lobbyists, and said drug companies are “getting away with murder.”

The president has even accused the drug industry of corruption, arguing that pharmaceutical companies contribute “massive amounts of money” to politicians as part of a scheme to keep the cost of medicines higher.

And then the president’s posture changed. After abandoning a promise to use government buying power to lower costs, Trump put a pharmaceutical company executive in charge of HHS. We learned soon after that one of the key architects of the White House drug-price plan was a top lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company.

Politico  reported in May that the former lobbyist, Joe Grogan, worked on these issues as recently as last spring, and “didn’t obtain a waiver from a directive Trump issued during his first week in office that imposed a two-year cooling-off period between lobbying and regulating on the same ‘specific issue area.’”

If you believed all of Trump’s posturing on lowering drug costs, I’m afraid I have some bad news.