Democrats Aren’t Taking Cues on Lower Drug Prices From Trump

  • Democrats aim to boost Medicare clout to negotiate drug prices
  • Trump would end drug rebates for the government programs

President Donald Trump called for both parties to help him lower drug costs in his State of the Union address, but Democrats in Congress aren’t looking for him to guide their pricing bills.

Trump asked Congress during his State of the Union speech to tackle the issues of “global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency” for Americans. He also called for legislation to require “drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs way down.”

These calls echo proposals his administration has put out looking to cut out pharmaceutical middlemen and to peg what Medicare pays for some drugs to their cost in other countries

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place,” Trump said in his speech Tuesday evening. “This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it.”

However, House Democrats are looking to advance legislation to expand Medicare’s negotiating power with drugmakers, a move they say will move the needle far further than anything Trump has proposed so far. The House, they said, will take up bills Democrats can agree on.

Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“We’re going to write the legislation on what we can agree,” Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said ahead of the speech. “It’s going to be the president’s role to either sign it or to veto it.”

‘Our Own Agenda’

Some Democrats said they’ve been waiting for years for Trump to endorse a negotiation bill and aren’t holding their breath any longer.

“We have our own agenda we’re going to move forward with or without him,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the influential House Rules Committee.

Trump’s comments come on the heels of a long-anticipated proposal that would end the drug rebates system in the prescription drug portion of Medicare and Medicaid.

Under the administration’s proposal, drug rebates for the government programs would be ended by eliminating protection from liability through an anti-kickback law. The anti-kickback statute typically restricts transactions that “induce or reward referrals for items or services reimbursed by federal health care programs.”

The proposal could also eliminate the need for price increases that drugmakers typically announce each January and reduce the likelihood that consumers would see large month-to-month increases in the cost of their medication, he said.

The tradeoff, however, would be higher premiums in Medicare. Supporters counter this by saying seniors would save by having lower out-of-pocket costs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at