Trump likely to target Medicare in quest for lower drug prices

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore
The Trump administration is likely eyeing reforms to Medicare as a way to lower drug prices, which have skyrocketed in recent years. (Gage Skidmore)

Medicare could be in the crosshairs of the Trump administration's search for a remedy to lower drug prices.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar implied yesterday that Medicare Part B changes would be a major focus of the administration's quest to lower drug prices. 

In his speech at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, Azar noted that the White House's strategy will be "building on the proposals in the President’s [2019] budget," which included capping out-of-pocket spending under Medicare Part B, $5 billion in cuts to the Medicare program, and moving Part B drug coverage into Part D to foster better price negotiations. 

However, skeptics have said these policies won't do much to accomplish the goal of controlling and reducing costs, and many of the ideas were championed by pharmaceutical companies, which have not been targeted by President Donald Trump in his quest for lower costs. 

The changes to Medicare Part D would likely run counter to the stated goals and actually raise costs for seniors, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association said in a statement earlier this year. 

The secretary's comments are a lead-up to an expected speech by Trump on new initiatives to lower prescription drug prices, which is slated for early next week, sources familiar with the administration's plans told FierceHealthcare. The announcement was planned for late April but has been postponed. 

In a keynote speech at the Food and Drug Law Institute annual conference, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., hinted that the government may reexamine safe harbors for drug rebates under the Anti-Kickback Statute. 

"Such a step could help restore some semblance of reality to the relationship between list and negotiated prices, and thereby boost affordability and competition," he said, adding that Trump and Azar "will have more on this topic soon."

RELATED: Report: Brand-name drug prices grew 10 times faster than inflation over last 5 years

The industry will be closely watching what Trump has to say. Drug pricing was a major issue of the Trump campaign, but industry, and consumers, have complained that those promises have not been kept.

Prescription drug prices have skyrocketed in recent years, especially prices of brand-name drugs, which have grown at 10 times the rate of inflation over the past five years, according to a congressional report