HHS chief insists drug pricing still on the Trump administration's agenda

HHS Secretary Tom Price told senators on Thursday that drug prices are still a priority for President Trump.

Before assuming office, then President-elect Donald Trump took a chance to hit out at the drug industry during a January press conference, pledging to aggressively lower prices. Now, months later as several pricing proposals sit in Congress, the Trump administration is reiterating its ambitions on the issue, but some in Congress aren't buying it.

Speaking with senators at a Thursday budget hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said President Trump has made drug pricing an “absolute priority.”

Price told the senators President Trump has directed him and others to develop specific proposals to lower drug costs. Officials have held a number of stakeholder meetings on the issue in recent weeks, Price added.

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

The secretary was taking questions from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who pointed out that the president’s 2018 budget doesn’t include any major proposals to lower drug costs. Instead, she said, it includes $25 billion in tax cuts for drug companies, “paid for by the people who are seeing their prescription drug prices go up.”

The senator questioned whether hep C treatments should cost $80,000 or whether cystic fibrosis treatments should cost $300,000. Responding, Price said the the drug pricing system should incentivize “innovation so that we can realize the benefit of wonderful inventions.”

As president-elect back in January, Trump said that pharma is “getting away with murder” and that he’d implement new competitive “bidding” to lower costs. But as the months have passed since he’s been in office, tangible action on pricing in Washington has been sparse.

RELATED: Democrats, Sanders back massive pharma overhaul in 'landmark' pricing legislation

Several members of Congress have introduced bills to fight high prices—including proposals such as importation and Medicare negotiations—but none have been taken to a vote.

Among them is a "landmark" piece of legislation introduced by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, and others that would dramatically reshape the industry. The bill would require drug companies to report costs, allow Medicare price negotiations, tax drugmakers that implement big price hikes and mandate more reporting by patient assistance groups who receive pharma funds.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,who supported that bill, also introduced an importation bill back in March in conjunction with Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Ga., who has met with President Trump on the drug pricing issue.

RELATED: New FDA commissioner Gottlieb unveils price-fighting strategies

At least one official in the Trump administration has come forward with strategies to fight high drug costs.

President Trump’s new FDA head, Scott Gottlieb, recently said the agency will maintain 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.

Further, Gottlieb said he’s developing a “drug competition action plan” that he will unveil soon.