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Trump zeroes in on surprise medical bills in White House chat with patients, experts


 


Mr. Davis’ daughter, Elizabeth Moreno, was a college student in Texas when she had spinal surgery to remedy debilitating back pain. After the surgery, she was asked to provide a urine sample and later received a bill from an out-of-network lab in Houston that tested it. Experts said such tests rarely cost more than $200, not nearly what the lab charged Ms. Moreno and her insurance company. But fearing damage to his daughter’s credit, Mr. Davis paid the lab $5,000 and filed a complaint with the Texas attorney general’s office, alleging “price gouging of staggering proportions.”

Mr. Davis said White House officials made it clear that price transparency is a “high priority” for Trump, and while they did not see eye to eye on every subject, he said he was struck by their sincerity.

“These people seemed earnest in wanting to do something constructive to fix this,” Mr. Davis said.

Dr. Martin Makary, a surgeon and health policy expert at Johns Hopkins University who has written about transparency in health care and attended the meeting, said it was a good opportunity for the White House to hear firsthand about a serious and widespread issue.

“This is how most of America lives, and [Americans are] getting hammered,” he said.

Mr. Trump has often railed against high prescription drug prices but has said less about other problems with the nation’s health care system. In October, shortly before the midterm elections, he unveiled a proposal to tie the price Medicare pays for some drugs to the prices paid for the same drugs overseas, for example.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Azar, and Mr. Acosta said efforts to control costs in health care were yielding positive results, discussing in particular the expansion of association health plans and the new requirement that hospitals post their list prices online. The president also took credit for the recent increase in generic drug approvals, which he said would help lower drug prices.

Discussing the partial government shutdown, Mr. Trump said Americans “want to see what we’re doing, like today we lowered prescription drug prices, first time in 50 years,” according to a White House pool report.

Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to a recent claim by the White House Council of Economic Advisers that prescription drug prices fell last year.

However, as STAT pointed out in a recent fact check, the report from which that claim was gleaned said “growth in relative drug prices has slowed since January 2017,” not that there was an overall decrease in prices.

Annual increases in overall drug spending have leveled off as pharmaceutical companies have released fewer blockbuster drugs; patents have expired on brand-name drugs; and the waning effect of a spike driven by the release of astronomically expensive drugs to treat hepatitis C. Drugmakers are also wary of increasing their prices in the midst of growing political pressure.

Since Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives this month, party leaders have rushed to announce investigations and schedule hearings dealing with health care, focusing in particular on drug costs and protections for those with preexisting conditions.

Recently, the House Oversight Committee announced a “sweeping” investigation into drug prices, pointing to an AARP report saying the vast majority of brand-name drugs had more than doubled in price between 2005 and 2017.

KHN correspondents Shefali Luthra and Jay Hancock contributed to this report. Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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