1:40 PM
Jul 10, 2018
 |  BC Extra  |  Politics & Policy

Trump administration may go beyond drug price blueprint

Recent drug price increases are prompting the Trump administration to consider taking steps that go beyond the drug pricing blueprint it released in May, John O’Brien, adviser to the HHS secretary and deputy assistant secretary for health policy, said Tuesday.

Speaking at an event sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, O’Brien reiterated the goals of the blueprint, including injecting more competition into Medicare Part B drug purchasing. While he provided no details, he said that ultimately the administration’s actions “may extend beyond what was in the blueprint.”

O’Brien said HHS Secretary Alex Azar is “pro-patient, pro-innovation and pro-competition,” and that he views himself as “standing between the industry and some faster ways to lower prices that some would say are not pro-competition and pro-innovation.”

Azar and the Trump administration designed the blueprint with the assumption that “there are some places that we are never going to go,” but the “last couple of weeks and those price increases have made it harder to do that.”

The administration remains opposed to drug price negotiation policies that would create restrictive formularies for Medicare or Medicaid, but it is becoming increasingly interested in more aggressive approaches to containing drug prices, O’Brien said. “To the people that have other more interesting ideas that aren’t ‘let’s just have one drug per class and close the formulary and restrict access and chill innovation,’ we are very interested in those ideas, perhaps more so than we might have been in the past.”

The comment period for the blueprint, which sought public comment on 162 questions, closes July 16.

HHS is keeping a close eye on drug price increases, O’Brien reported. “We are looking at prices and looking for price increases every day. We know about them before they show up in Politico. We do contact the companies and find out what’s going on.” He added, however, that HHS does not and hasn’t proposed to ask “companies why they felt the need to take a price increase or why their price really is what it is.”

O’Brien expressed skepticism about state and federal drug price transparency legislation, saying that it seems to be intended to provide ammunition to shame drug companies into lowering prices. Determining drug manufacturers’ costs isn’t likely to lead to lower prices unless the government is “willing to actually set drug prices,” he said. “We are not willing to set drug prices because we believe that price controls or access restrictions as a way to get to price controls ultimately doesn’t save money, harms patients and leads to a decrease in innovation.”

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