President Donald Trump, during his campaign, said it was unacceptable for the pharmaceutical industry to gauge patients, who are already suffering, with the astronomical prices they charge for the life and limb saving drugs. He was going to fix that and was the man to do so.
Now that he is the president and his Republican party controls both the House and Senate, he has the best chance to make that happen. As President, he stood in front of the White House on May 11, 2018, unveiling his proposals to reduce the staggering high prices of drugs in America and said, “We are very much eliminating the middle men. The middle men became very, very rich.”
For a brief moment, I thought he was on the right track. It seemed he understood that one of the main reasons healthcare costs in America are so high is the layers and layers of unnecessary middle men. Of course, there is the more serious problem of policies and laws enacted by corrupt politicians beholden to the special interest lobbyists. Trump also said he would take on the special interests. The question is, will he actually follow through on his promise? Looking at the man Trump appointed and standing next to him in front of the White House as his Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, I would say, don’t hold your breath.
Azar was the president of the American division of the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and oversaw its lobbying efforts for the company. If we think he will actually bring change that will reign in the greed of PHARMA and bring down drug prices, we will be sadly mistaken. In the past few months, Trump and Azar have been working on policies to bring drug prices down. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry was nervously thinking their enormous profits would be in jeopardy. However, when the actual proposed policies were recently released, the industry breathed a sigh of relief. The proposals had no teeth that would bite into the industry’s ability to charge prices the way they want to. The drug industry dodged a bullet and, of course, naturally the stock prices of the pharmaceutical companies soared.
Trump, true to his character, is long on rhetoric and short on substance. “We’re going to see those prices come down,” he said. “It will be a beautiful thing.” He is not serious about any policies that will actually bring drug prices down and consequently some relief to patients, especially senior citizens who spend a big chunk of their social security check on purchasing medicines. Americans spend on an average $1,162 per person on prescription drugs compared to $497 per in the United Kingdom, thanks to their nationalized health care system. Unfortunately, the largest government health insurance program in America, Medicare, is forbidden by law to negotiate low prices, a law enacted by Republican congress and signed by George W. Bush, thanks to the special interest lobbyists like Alex Azar.
Medicare has 60 million members and has the economy of scale to bargain for low prices, which would be the case if America truly is a free market economy. With corrupt political system, influenced by the special interest pharmaceutical lobby, the laws are skewed in favor of greedy drug industry, not average Americans. If Trump wants to bring prices down, the first thing he can do is to make his Republican congress repeal the law forbidding Medicare from bargaining for low prices. Democrats would love Medicare to have that power but Republicans oppose it. As long as Paul Ryan is the speaker and Azar the HHS secretary, Medicare has a no chance to get that power.
Only informed and activated citizens can bring the change through the political process by voting the corrupt politicians and law makers out of office. Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician practicing for 15 years in Washington DC and also the president of PNHP, said that PHARMA represents the biggest evils and barriers to practicing physicians, nurses, therapists, healers and to all Americans in this country. To prescribe life saving medication is extremely difficult because the price of that medication is outside of the reach of ordinary Americans. During a protest in front of PHARMA in Washington DC, Dr. Zarr said that the doctors should realize that enough is enough and it is time they fight back for all their patients, so finally we can have a day when medicines are actually affordable.
I hope the concerned doctors, in whose hands the patients trust their lives, will lead the charge and the citizens can follow.
All those American citizens hoping to change the healthcare system for the better, so they can afford quality healthcare, may have an opportunity this coming midterm elections to elect lawmakers who truly do fight the powerful special interest pharmaceutical lobby.
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