WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union speech, President Donald Trump renewed his pledge to reduce prescription drug prices, days after a former big pharma executive was sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Trump had stunned the pharmaceutical industry during his 2016 campaign by declaring that drug manufacturers were “getting away with murder” and promising that he would bring down drug prices.
He repeated that promise in his address. “One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs,” he stated. “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. And it’s very, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year. And prices will come down substantially. Watch.”
Days before the address, Trump had emphasized the importance of containing the rising cost of drugs at the swearing-in ceremony for Alex Azar, the new HHS secretary, who previously served as head of U.S. operations for Eli Lilly and Co.
Trump’s State of the Union address also hailed his administration’s success in speeding up the approval process for generic drugs. According to a recent HHS report, last year the Food and Drug Administration approved 1,027 new generics last year, breaking the record of 800 approvals set in 2016.
“To speed access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs, last year the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our country’s history,” said Trump.
He also called for Congress to pass a federal version of the “Right to Try” laws already enacted by several states that allow terminally ill patients access to medications that do not yet have full FDA approval.
“People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure,” he declared. ‘I want to give them a chance right here at home. It’s time for Congress to give these wonderful, incredible Americans the right to try.”
While Trump did not renew his call for the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act enacted by the Obama Administration, he hailed the elimination of the program’s individual mandate that was part of the recently approved tax package.
“We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year, forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they couldn’t afford government-ordered health plans,” he said. “We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare. The individual mandate is now gone, thank Heaven.”
Trump also pointed to his success in rolling back federal government regulations, noting that the administration had eliminated more regulations in its first year than any other administration in the nation’s history. He also claimed credit for the creation of new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years, and a soaring stock market during the speech.
“This is our new American moment,” he stated. “There has never been a better time to start living the American dream.”
The president went on to call for investment in workforce development and job training, including the establishment of vocational schools, as well as paid family leave for workers. He also called on Congress to produce a bill that will generate at least $1.5 trillion for rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure and streamline the approval process for such projects. Most of that sum would be contributed by state and local governments.
The National Retail Federation (NRF), which had recently lauded the economic accomplishments of the Trump Administration during its annual convention in New York, welcomed the announcement of the infrastructure improvement plan, something the trade group has backed for years. Retailers, it points out, are among the nation’s largest shippers and have faced escalating transportation costs resulting from decaying roads and bridges.
However, NRF parted with the president on his ongoing protectionist stance. “The era of economic surrender is totally over,” Trump told his audience. “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and, very importantly, reciprocal.”
The trade association agrees with Trump that the North American Free Trade Agreement should be updated, but considers threats to pull out of the pact “a nonstarter.”