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Health care gets little attention in State of the Union address

Dr. Michael E. Nelson, FCCP

Michael E. Nelson, MD, FCCP, comments: As Congress nickles and dimes its way to more appropriate and affordable health care, the Presidential promises and platitudes ring somewhat hollow. There is an inherent problem with a system that spends an average of more than $10,000 per person for health care (the most for any country) but only made it to 37th place in the latest WHO Healthcare System rankings. One would think our elected officials should be able to improve on that, and yet I’m reminded of the words of George Will: “Politicians fascinate because they are such a paradox; they are an elite that accomplishes mediocrity for the public good.”


President Trump reaffirmed his campaign promise to lower prescription drug prices during his first State of the Union address – but gave no details on how he plans to do so.

“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs,” President Trump said in his Jan. 30 address to a joint session of Congress. “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States, and it is very, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year.”

President Trump's first State of the Union address focused mostly on tax reform and immigration reform, but included a few health care initiatives. Courtesy The White House

President Trump's first State of the Union address focused mostly on tax reform and immigration reform, but included a few health care initiatives.

He then emphatically stated: “Prices will come down substantially. Watch.”

His words followed the confirmation of Alex Azar as Health & Human Services secretary. Mr. Azar’s nomination was criticized by some who questioned whether the former president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations could be effective at tackling the surging prices of pharmaceuticals.

President Trump also expressed his support for allowing terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs prior to Food and Drug Administration approval, the so-called right to try.

“We also believe that patients with terminal conditions, terminal illness, should have access to experimental treatment immediately that could potentially save their lives,” he said. “People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure. I want to give them a chance right here at home. It’s time for the Congress to give these wonderful incredible Americans the right to try.”

The Senate passed a right to try bill (S. 204) in 2017 by unanimous consent, but the House has yet to act upon it.

President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic and made a loose connection between it and his overall platform for immigration reform, saying that “these reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction.”

As far as addressing the epidemic itself, Mr. Trump said that his administration “is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who have been so terribly hurt. The struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but, as Americans always do, in the end we will succeed. We will prevail.”

The president also commended Congress for effectively eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate that required people to have health insurance or suffer a financial penalty.

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