Trump wants to battle high drug prices? Let's work together, hike-fighting senator says

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who early on called for an investigation into Mylan’s EpiPen prices, has a message for President-elect Donald Trump: Let’s bring drug prices down together.

In a new op-ed for USA Today, Sen. Klobuchar outlined several tactics that, if implemented, would reduce prices in the U.S., she contends. Industry-watchers will recognize the oft-discussed strategies, including Medicare price negotiation powers and re-importation of cheaper drugs from abroad.

For one, Sen. Klobuchar wants Congress and the new administration to work together to put an end to “practices that hurt competition” such as branded drugmakers' misuse of FDA rules to deny generics makers the samples they need to develop copycats. She also wants to step up the fight against pay-for-delay patent settlements that postpone cheap generics.

The rules problem—in which drugmakers exploit risk-management programs designed to ensure drug safety, called REMS—was one Sen. Patrick Leahy and others, Sen. Klobuchar included, worked to address through an amendment to the 21st Century Cures Act. That amendment didn’t make it into the final bill, however.

In her op-ed, Sen. Klobuchar also called on the government to “vigorously enforce existing laws that protect competition,” pointing to Mylan’s Medicaid misclassification for EpiPen as one example of an enforcement miss. Mylan says it has reached a $465 settlement agreement that sees it admit no responsibility, but Sen. Klobuchar wants to know “how far this problem goes” with other drugs.

President-elect Trump sent chills through the pharma industry last week when he told Time Magazine that he plans to “bring down drug prices.” Share prices at many top companies took a hit as analysts and investors chewed over the potential ramifications—and the initial Trump boost to biopharma shares proved at least partly unfounded.

“I don’t like what has happened with drug prices,” Trump added.

Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, also endorsed the idea of allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices on behalf of millions of seniors and taxpayers. That’s a position Trump took early this year, but one he left off of his healthcare plan in March. 

Last, to further boost competition, Sen. Klobuchar said we should allow “competition from abroad,” citing a study that found Canada’s drug prices were on average 50% lower than in the U.S. in 2013. She’s supporting an effort to import those cheaper meds, and President-elect Trump said in his healthcare plan he’s behind that idea.

“These are the same drugs with the same safety standards and the same dosages as those that are sold in the United States,” the senator wrote. “Yet, under current law, American families can’t buy these cheaper alternatives. It doesn’t make sense.”

The pharma industry opposes both moves, and has successfully fought off Medicare price negotiation and reimportation bills several times in the past.

Early in the EpiPen pricing fiasco, Sen. Klobuchar called for an investigation into to Mylan’s repeated price hikes for its lifesaving epinephrine injector.

Drug prices have been the focus of intense public and political scrutiny for more than a year after high-profile price hikes from Valeant and Turing last fall.