(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump told Democrats at the White House Wednesday that he wants to do something about U.S. drug prices, according to a lawmaker at the meeting, an area of potential bipartisan agreement as the two parties wrangle over Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obamacare.
Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Peter Welch of Vermont presented Trump with a bill to have Medicare directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, and also talked about the price of the EpiPen, Mylan NV’s emergency allergy shot that became a focus for critics of high pharmaceutical prices. Both lawmakers are Democrats.
Trump was “enthusiastic” about the topic of drug pricing, Cummings told reporters after the meeting. “He was clearly aware of the problem and he made clear to us he wanted to do something about it.”
“He knew there was a whole group of lobbyists and a lot of money being poured into this,” Cummings said of the drug industry. “It boiled down to, again, saving people’s lives and saving money, and he was clear when you have situations where these companies are jacking up these prices it puts a lot of families in jeopardy.”
U.S. drug prices have been a frequent target for Trump, and he’s threatened to use the government’s buying power to force prices down — but so far has not unveiled any specifics about how. On Tuesday, Trump sent pharmaceutical stocks falling with a tweet where he promised to lower medicine costs and said he’s working on a “new system where there will be competition in the drug industry.”
Mylan has battled criticism over the past 18 months for the price of its EpiPen, which is used to counteract life-threatening allergic reactions. EpiPen’s wholesale price has jumped six-fold since Mylan acquired its marketing rights in 2007 and now lists for about $600 for a two-pack. In response to the criticism last year, Mylan offered a generic version of EpiPen for $300. The product is also facing competition now, after a former rival returned to the market recently.
Cummings said that Trump “was very clear on the EpiPen situation,” and that he is “looking for ways people can get the medication they need.”
The president “expressed his desire” to work with Cummings in a bipartisan way to ensure prescription drugs are more affordable, the White House said in a statement. That includes reforming the Food and Drug Administration and reducing the regulatory burdens on manufacturers, it said.
A Mylan representative didn’t respond to request for comment.
The legislation would allow the government to directly negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare, Cummings and Welch said. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price opposed such provisions as a member of Congress. Cummings said in a statement that Trump is reviewing the proposal and “seemed enthusiastic about the idea.”
Unlike most countries in the world, the U.S. doesn’t directly regulate medicine prices, and drugmakers have strongly resisted it. Trump met with top pharma executives in January, and his comments to the media afterward suggested he backed off a worst-case scenario where the government would set drug prices.
A spokeswoman for the drug industry’s Washington lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, declined to comment on Wednesday’s events. PhRMA has previously voiced opposition to government pricing controls and said they wouldn’t lead to lower prices. The organization and its member companies have also said that the Medicare prescription drug program already is subject to negotiation through insurers.
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