Business & Tech

Trump knocks Pfizer Inc. drug price hikes

Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar said the Trump administration is watching drug companies closely as they continue to raise prices.
Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar said the Trump administration is watching drug companies closely as they continue to raise prices. ( Tom Brenner/The New York Times/file 2018)

WASHINGTON — Last week, it was a left-wing political group taking Pfizer Inc. to task for hiking prices on dozens of drugs. On Monday, it was the president, who accused the company of arbitrarily hiking prices and taking advantage of Americans struggling to afford prescription medicines.

“Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason,” President Trump tweeted. “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!”

Trump had promised “massive, voluntary drops” in drug prices in late May, only to watch one of the largest US pharmaceutical manufacturers follow through with midyear price adjustments, many of which were announced in recent weeks. Pfizer recently raised list prices for 41 drugs — the vast majority by 9 percent or more — and lowered prices for five.

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The president’s swipe at Pfizer is not his first verbal skirmish with the pharmaceutical industry. As president-elect, he infamously said the pharmaceutical industry was “getting away with murder.”

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And after Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier resigned from a White House manufacturing council to protest Trump’s defense of white nationalist demonstrators, the president tweeted that Frazier might have more time to “lower ripoff drug prices.”

Though the Department of Health and Human Services has cited the potential for Trump’s Internet wrath as a disincentive for companies to hike prices, drug pricing specialists remain skeptical that the power of the bully pulpit alone can keep drug costs down.

Still, shortly after Trump’s tweet, health Secretary Alex Azar said the administration is watching drug companies closely as they continue to raise prices. “The president has noticed, I have noticed, and more importantly the American people have noticed,” he said, speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C.

“The drug companies who recently increased prices may well be remembered for creating a tipping point in US drug pricing policy,” he said.

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The Trump administration has made high prescription drug costs a policy focus in 2018, but has little to show for its efforts so far.

The White House’s drug pricing blueprint, unveiled in May, was notably light on policy specifics, and the current Congress has not passed legislation aimed at reducing drug costs.

Lev Facher can be reached at lev.facher@statnews.com.