Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump unveiled a new "American patients first" strategy that accuses drug manufacturers of charging more for prescription medications in the United States than other countries with similar economic advantages.
"We are taking aim at the global freeloading that forces American consumers to subsidize lower prices in foreign countries through higher prices in our country," Trump said during a speech at the Department of Health and Human Services. "I have seen it for years and never understood. Same company, same box, same pill, made in the same location, and you will go to some countries and it will be 20 percent [of the cost of drugs in the United States] because of what we pay and in some cases, much less than that. I say why is this?"
Under the new plan, Trump said the Department of Health and Human Services would allow Medicare to determine the price it pays for certain drugs based on cheaper prices paid by other nations.
"For decades, other countries have rigged the system so that American patients will be charged much more and in some cases, much more, for the exact same drug," Trump continued. "In other words, Americans pay more so other countries can pay less, very simple. That is exactly what it is. It is wrong, it is unfair, it is not surprising."
Trump added that doctors would be paid "a flat rate" regardless of the cost of medications that they prescribe in order to counter doctors he says who prescribe more expensive medications so they can earn a higher commission.
"I think this will be good in terms of the pricing of the drug – fantastic for that," Trump said. "It will also be much better for patients. It very well may be better for doctors."
While Democrats have hammered Trump over the past week saying that his administration is working to undermine protections in the Affordable Care Act for Americans with pre-existing conditions, Trump promised he "will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions."
"Always," Trump emphasized. "In every action we take, we are putting America first. This is very much about putting America first."
The push comes less than two weeks ahead of the midterm elections in which Democrats are striving to flip the House, Senate and several governor seats.
Such a scenario could fundamentally change the nation's political approach to health care, making it much more likely that additional states would move to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income Americans and push back on efforts by administration efforts to relax regulatory standards.
In response, Trump in recent days has hammered away with what he acknowledges is a "nationalist" message, deriding "globalists" he says force America to "play second fiddle."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tweeted early Thursday that Trump "wants to end global freeloading" and the administration's new policy aims to address the high cost of prescription drugs "and our work to put American patients first."
Azar, a former executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, said his agency compared prices for the most costly drugs covered by Medicare insurance that are administered by physicians. The analysis found that Medicare pays nearly twice as much as it would for the same or similar drugs in other countries.
"Medicare was found to be paying the highest price for 19 out of the 27 drugs studied compared to these other countries," Azar tweeted. "There was only a single case in which the U.S. was paying lower than the international average."
"We can and must do better," he later added.
Azar released his analysis, which noted there was "no clear pattern as to which countries were consistently paying lower prices."
As details of the policy emerged, the pharmaceutical industry has expressed some concerns.
“We have serious concerns with any changes to Medicare Part B that threaten patient access to lifesaving medicines, undermine physician care quality or discourage continued medical progress," Holly Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade association known as "PhRMA”. "More information is needed on the Administration’s proposals, but policies that impose foreign government price controls in the U.S. health care system, reduce physician reimbursement for Part B medicines or insert middlemen between patients and their doctors could limit access to medicines and severely alter the market-based Part B program.”

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