President Donald J. Trump took on multiple health care issues in his State of the Union address, imploring Congress to avoid the “socialism” of Medicare-for-all, to pass legislation banning late-term abortions, and to protect insurance coverage for preexisting conditions while joining together to reduce rising drug prices.
Mr. Trump said his administration has already been “taking on the big pharmaceutical companies,” claiming that, in 2019, “for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down.”
That statement was called “misleading” by the New York Times because such efforts have excluded some high-cost drugs, and prices had risen by the end of the year, the publication noted in a fact-check of the president’s speech.
But the president did throw down a gauntlet for Congress. “Working together, the Congress can reduce drug prices substantially from current levels,” he said, stating that he had been “speaking to Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and others in the Congress in order to get something on drug pricing done, and done properly.
“Get a bill to my desk, and I will sign it into law without delay,” Mr. Trump said.
The bill would give the Department of Health & Human Services the power to negotiate directly with drug companies on up to 250 drugs per year, in particular, the highest-costing and most-utilized drugs.
The Senate has not taken up the legislation, but Sen. Grassley (R) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a similar bill, the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act. It has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee but has not been moved to the Senate floor.
“I appreciate President Trump recognizing the work we’re doing to lower prescription drug prices,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement after the State of the Union. “Iowans and Americans across the country are demanding reforms that lower sky-high drug costs. A recent poll showed 70% of Americans want Congress to make lowering drug prices its top priority.”
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he believed Trump was committed to lowering drug costs. “I’ve never seen a president lean in further than President Donald Trump on lowering health care costs,” said Rep. Walden in a statement after the speech.
Trump touted his price transparency rule, which he said would go into effect next January, as a key way to cut health care costs.
The president said that since he’d taken office, insurance had become more affordable and that the quality of health care had improved. He also said that he was making what he called an “iron-clad pledge” to American families.
“We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions – that is a guarantee,” Mr. Trump said.
In a press conference before the speech, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took issue with that pledge. “The president swears that he supports protections for people with preexisting conditions, but right now, he is fighting in federal court to eliminate these lifesaving protections and every last protection and benefit of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.
During the speech, Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) tweeted “#FactCheck: Claiming to protect Americans with preexisting conditions, Trump and his administration have repeatedly sought to undermine protections offered by the ACA through executive orders and the courts. He is seeking to strike down the law and its protections entirely.”
Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, pointed out in a tweet that insurance plans that Trump touted as “affordable alternatives” are in fact missing those protections.
“Ironically, the cheaper health insurance plans that President Trump has expanded are short-term plans that don’t cover preexisting conditions,” Mr. Levitt said.