Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky dines with Trump as president promises ‘substantial’ drug price cuts

Alex Gorsky
Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, along with other business leaders, attended a dinner with President Trump at a private golf club. (Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky joined other CEOs for dinner with President Donald Trump and it came with a prelude where Trump told reporters the administration has a plan to bring drug prices down “really substantially.”

This may be his second dinner with the president in a month. Gorsky was previously on the invitation list of a black-tie dinner with Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May at the Blenheim Palace during Trump’s July visit to the U.K. Last night, he appeared again—this time for sure, according to the final attendees list provided by the White House—at Trump’s dinner hosted at a private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Executives from PepsiCo, FedEx, Boeing and Ernst & Young, among others also attended the dinner. According to a statement from the White House seen by CNBC, it is “an opportunity for the President to hear how the economy is doing from their perspective and what their priorities and thoughts are for the year ahead.”

While attendees spanned the business spectrum, it was drug prices that the president mentioned at the beginning of the dinner, reiterating a previous announcement that drug prices will come down significantly. “We are announcing something next week which is going to get them down really, really substantially,” said Trump, as quoted by Bloomberg, without providing any details.

The J&J chief himself has also addressed the drug price topic on the company’s second-quarter conference call, recently. That came days after Pfizer postponed price hikes after a request—and threat—from Trump.  

On the call, Gorsky said drugs only represent 14% of the total healthcare cost in the U.S., while stressing their contribution to improving people’s health and reducing morbidity rates. Gorsky said the company is working with partners “to transform the way health care is paid for, so everyone involved is held accountable and rewarded for the value they deliver.”

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Instead of making new price limit promises like other pharma CEOs, Gorsky argued any change to the system should reward innovation and champion transparency. “We need to be extremely careful and cognizant about avoiding unintended consequences which may increase patients’ cost further and/or decrease patients’ access to affordable and quality healthcare,” he said.

J&J previously reported that its net pharma prices fell 4.6% in 2017 after rebates and discounts of nearly $15 billion.

Gorsky has had a mixed relationship with Trump. Last year, he followed Merck CEO Ken Frazier’s step and left Trump’s manufacturing council over the president’s controversial response to the deadly Charlottesville violence. But that came after he initially committed to stay on the panel to “remain engaged” with ongoing policy talks. Trump then disbanded the group himself.

Gorsky isn’t the only pharma exec who’s had dinnertime with Trump. GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley was also on the guest list to dine with Trump in London, but it isn’t clear whether she or Gorsky had attended the event. Novartis then-incoming CEO Vas Narasimhan and Bayer CEO Werner Baumann joined a dinner with the president at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.