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Trump Presents Proposal To Lower The Price Of Specific Drugs

The Trump administration proposal is open for public comment for 60 days.

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- President Donald Trump says his plan will stop unfair practices that force Americans to pay much more than people in other countries for some medications — but the plan would not apply to medicines people buy at pharmacies. VOA
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Less than two weeks before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a plan to lower prices for some prescription drugs, saying it would stop unfair practices that force Americans to pay much more than people in other countries for the same medications.

“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 in a speech at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Same company. Same box. Same pill. Made in the exact same location, and you would go to some countries and it would be 20 percent of the cost of what we pay,” said Trump, who predicted the plan would save Americans billions. “We’re fixing it.”

But consumers take note:

— The plan would not apply to medicines people buy at the pharmacy, just ones administered in a doctor’s office, as are many cancer medications and drugs for immune system problems. Physician-administered drugs can be very expensive, but pharmacy drugs account for the vast majority of what consumers buy.

— Don’t expect immediate rollbacks. Officials said the complex proposal could take more than a year to be put into effect.

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Protesters gather across the Chicago River from Trump Tower to rally against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, March 24, 2017, in Chicago. VOA

In another twist, the plan is structured as an experiment through a Medicare innovation center empowered to seek savings by the Affordable Care Act. That’s the law also known as “Obamacare,” which Trump is committed to repealing.

Trump has long promised sweeping action to attack drug prices, both as president and when he was running for the White House. He made his latest announcement just ahead of the Nov. 6 elections, with health care high among voters’ concerns.

Under the plan, Medicare payment for drugs administered in doctors’ offices would gradually shift to a level based on international prices. Prices in other countries are lower because governments directly negotiate with manufacturers.

Drugmakers immediately pushed back, arguing the plan amounts to government price-setting.

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Stephen Ubl, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, speaks during a news conference in Trenton, N.J., Sept. 18, 2017. VOA

“The administration is imposing foreign price controls from countries with socialized health care systems that deny their citizens access and discourage innovation,” Stephen Ubl, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement. “These proposals are to the detriment of American patients.”

Trump is linking the prices Americans complain about to one of his long-standing grievances: foreign countries the president says are taking advantage of U.S. research breakthroughs.

Drug pricing expert Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes called the plan “a pretty substantive proposal” but one that faces “serious political challenges.”

“The rhetoric about finally dealing with foreign freeloading suggests that we are going to take steps to get other countries to pay their fair share for innovation,” Bach added. But that’s “quite literally the opposite of what is being proposed. What is being proposed is that we freeload off of other countries’ ability to negotiate more effectively.”

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill were dismissive. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said if Trump wants to save seniors money, he should seek congressional approval for Medicare to negotiate prices for its main prescription drug program, Part D. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “It’s hard to take the Trump administration and Republicans seriously about reducing health care costs for seniors two weeks before the election.”

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in New York, Sept. 12, 2018. VOA

The health insurance industry, at odds with drugmakers over prices, commended the administration’s action.

As an experiment, the proposal would apply to half the country. Officials said they’re seeking input on how to select the areas that will take part in the new pricing system. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said politics would have nothing to do with it.

In advance of Trump’s speech, HHS released a report that found U.S. prices for the top drugs administered in doctors’ offices are nearly twice as high as those in foreign countries. The list includes many cancer drugs. Medicare pays directly for them under its Part B coverage for outpatient care.

Physician-administered drugs cost Medicare $27 billion in 2016. HHS says the plan would save Medicare $17.2 billion over five years. Beneficiaries would save an estimated $3.4 billion through lower cost-sharing.

The plan could meet resistance not only from drugmakers but also from doctors, now paid a percentage of the cost of the medications they administer. However, HHS officials said the plan was designed so it would not cut into doctors’ reimbursements.

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President Donald Trump speaks at a rally endorsing the Republican ticket in Erie, Pennsylvania, VOA

Azar said more plans were being developed on drug costs.

“This is not the end of the road, the end of the journey,” he said. “There is more coming.”

Trump has harshly criticized the pharmaceutical industry, once asserting that the companies were “getting away with murder.” But it’s largely been business as usual for drugmakers even as Trump has predicted “massive” voluntary price cuts.

Also Read: Testing Of Self-Driving School Bus Halted In Florida, USA

A recent Associated Press analysis of prices for brand-name drugs found far more increases than cuts in the first seven months of this year. The analysis found 96 price hikes for every price cut. The number of increases slowed somewhat, and they were not quite as steep as in past years, the AP found.

The Trump administration proposal is open for public comment for 60 days. (VOA)

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Facebook Cannot Regulate Itself: U.S. Lawmakers

Now we know that once they knew the truth, top @Facebook executives did everything they could to hide it from the public.

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Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., center, talks with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., right, during a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Capitol Hill. VOA

Democratic U.S. Representative David Cicilline, expected to become the next chairman of House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, said on Wednesday that Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself and Congress should take action.

Cicilline, citing a report in the New York Times on Facebook’s efforts to deal with a series of crises, said on Twitter: “This staggering report makes clear that @Facebook executives will always put their massive profits ahead of the interests of their customers.”

“It is long past time for us to take action,” he said. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said a year ago that the company would put its “community” before profit, and it has doubled its staff focused on safety and security issues since then. Spending also has increased on developing automated tools to catch propaganda and material that violates the company’s posting policies.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. VOA

Other initiatives have brought increased transparency about the administrators of pages and purchasers of ads on Facebook. Some critics, including lawmakers and users, still contend that Facebook’s bolstered systems and processes are prone to errors and that only laws will result in better performance. The New York Timessaid Zuckerberg and the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, ignored warning signs that the social media company could be “exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe.” And when the warning signs became evident, they “sought to conceal them from public view.”

“We’ve known for some time that @Facebook chose to turn a blind eye to the spread of hate speech and Russian propaganda on its platform,” said Cicilline, who will likely take the reins of the subcommittee on regulatory reform, commercial and antitrust law when the new, Democratic-controlled Congress is seated in January.

Also Read: Social Media Laws Should Be Tightened: Germany

“Now we know that once they knew the truth, top @Facebook executives did everything they could to hide it from the public by using a playbook of suppressing opposition and propagating conspiracy theories,” he said.

“Next January, Congress should get to work enacting new laws to hold concentrated economic power to account, address the corrupting influence of corporate money in our democracy, and restore the rights of Americans,” Cicilline said. (VOA)