Trump administration's proposal to lower prices might just raise them, critics say

Critics are blasting the White House on reports of a drug pricing executive order that they say fails to significantly address the issue.

Biopharma and its investors are breathing a sigh of relief with reports that the Trump administration is preparing an executive order on pricing that won’t do much harm to its business model. In fact, some proposals under consideration stand to help the industry, which has spent nearly $80 million this year lobbying to protect itself.

At the same time, critics are blasting the White House for going too easy on drugmakers.

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an analysis of the administration’s draft order detailing efforts to implement value-based pricing and step up IP enforcement abroad. According to the Times, the draft order also seeks to roll back a government program that forces drugmakers to provide discounts to hospitals and clinics that treat low-income patients.

Still, CNBC reported it could be weeks before the president signs an executive order on pricing as the White House may wait until the Senate votes on a healthcare reform bill. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the reports.

RELATED: Trump White House at work on executive order tackling drug prices: report

Reacting to the draft order, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Director Peter Maybarduk said in a statement “Big Pharma has captured the Trump administration.”

After viewing the document in cooperation with the Times, Maybarduk believes the order, “formed in significant part by pharma lobbyist Joe Grogan, would increase profits at the expense of patient safety while failing to reduce costs—and even potentially raising them.”

Grogan previously worked as a federal affairs head at Gilead, which came under intense pressure years back for its hepatitis C pricing.

An administration official told the Times the draft order was formed last week before a meeting on the issue, one of several that will be held in the coming months. The proposals could change as the conversations continue.

In a Wednesday letter (PDF) to the president, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., who previously met with Trump to talk drug prices, said they’re concerned the draft order would be a “betrayal of the very people who supported you and rely on you to make good on your promises.”

RELATED: Trump to pharma: You're 'getting away with murder,' and I'm the one to stop it

As industry watchers know, Trump earlier this year railed on the industry for “getting away with murder,” and for its powerful lobby in Washington. 

“Your statements and your promises gave many of us hope, but your planned executive actions suggest that you have abandoned these promises in favor of the very pharmaceutical lobby you warned of,” Cummings and Welch wrote to the president.

So far this year, the drug and health products industry has spent $78 million on lobbying, nearly double the second-highest sector, insurance, which has spent $40 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Drug pricing has been a hot topic in Washington and around the country for nearly two years after a series of high-profile price hikes made countless headlines in 2015. Several proposals to tackle high costs are pending in Congress—including those despised by pharma that would allow Medicare negotiations and drug importation from Canada—but none have gained much traction.

RELATED: New FDA commissioner Gottlieb unveils price-fighting strategies

Outside of Washington, lawmakers in 30 states have introduced their own measures aimed at taking on high costs, with some aimed at bringing transparency to drug pricing.

Since taking up his post, new FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has already announced some measures his agency will take to fight high costs. Gottlieb said last month that the FDA will publish and update a list of medications that are off patent and have no competition, work to improve generic review times and seek to “curtail gaming” of regulations by the industry that allows companies to extend patent monopolies.